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by • January 24, 2016 • The Wayne Besen ShowComments (0)2139

WCPT’s Wayne Besen Speaks at Elgin Township Democrats Dinner


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In the 16th year of the 21st Century, we are a nation divided, culturally, financially, geographically, and politically. There are distinct differences between the Democratic and Republican Party. We have two visions of America and only one will prevail. It is up to us — you and me — to ensure that progressive triumphs over regressive. This election is crucial for our future. And critically important for the direction of this great nation.

This election is about who we are. What we stand for. Where we’re going and what we believe in. I’m proudly an aggressive progressive, because if we don’t fight, we cannot win. If we don’t stand up for our values, we will be devalued.

This week, two developments highlighted how key the upcoming elections truly are. In the first, the charity Oxfam released a study in Davos that said 62 people own as much wealth as the 3.5 billion people in the bottom half of the world’s income scale.

Jeffrey Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University described it this way to the New York Times: “These are unprecedented levels of stratification in all of human history. Whether compared to ancient Rome or authoritarian dictatorships that exert near-total control of a country’s resources, no other system has concentrated wealth as much as this system has.”

In a second major development, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA said that last year was Earth’s warmest ever. This goes all the way back to when they first started keeping records in 1880. The second hottest year was 2014. Ten out of the 12 months last year were the warmest months on record.

Now, which party do you think is going to best tackle economic inequality and climate change? Hint: it’s probably not the Party that doesn’t believe either phenomenon exists.

Oxfam’s alarming study is in line with other disturbing economic trends – which are caused or exacerbated by reckless consolidation, monopolization, and deregulation. Here are a few examples:

• While we bicker about food stamp recipients, there are $12 billion in annual subsidies for corporate meals and entertainment.

• 158 families have given more than half of the cash for 2016 races. The Washington Post reports that top-tier Republican donors this year will pay $1.34 million per couple for political insider access. The Democratic Party will charge roughly $1.6 million. In such a money maelstrom, how can the voices of average citizens be heard?

• The New York Times reports that median CEO compensation in 2013 was $13.9 million, a 9-percent increase from 2012

• The average CEO of a Standard & Poor’s 500 company was paid 216 times more than the median employees at their companies, according to a USA Today analysis. They were paid just 20 times more on average in the 1950’s, according to Bloomberg Business Week.

• USA Today reports: The 100 largest U.S. CEO retirement packages are worth a combined $4.9 billion, equal to the entire retirement account savings of 41% of American families.

• A shocking 95-percent of income growth since the recovery started has gone to the super-wealthy.

I’m not against the wealthy – in fact I’d love to be rich. But, I take issue with the greedy. This inexcusable wealth gap was not necessary for the growth of the economy or the creation of jobs, as Republicans like to say.

Hedrick Smith, author of “Who Stole the American Dream” vividly explains how this happened.

In the early 1970’s corporate America decided that they would exert financial muscle to rewrite the rules to their favor. The number of corporate lobbying offices leapfrogged from 170 in 1971 to 2,445 a decade later. By 1978, these 2,000-plus corporate interests in Washington had a total staff of 50,000 employees, 9,000 lobbyists, and 8,000 public relations executives. In fact, these business interests outnumbered Congress 130 to 1.

The results? The New York Times article on the Oxfam report states: A global network of tax havens contributed to the wealth divide by allowing the rich to hide trillions of dollars in assets from their countries and governments.

So, when powerful and wealthy conservative interests say we can’t afford to make America better, the data says we can. This glaring worldwide economic imbalance is unsustainable. The people are catching on and this wild election cycle is an example of its volatile and destabilizing effects.

We must win and take back our country before our country is unrecognizable.

Aside from the importance of The White House, The Supreme Court hangs in the balance, as unbalanced minds fight for the Republican nomination. Elections matter and as Donald Trump likes to say, there are winners and losers. And in one sense he’s right. If a Republican wins, America IMG_5316WayneSmallCropwill be the loser.

Of course, all politics is local. It is the man who braves the cold to knock on doors on a snowy day. It is the woman who makes so many phone calls her fingers ache and her ear is numb. It is the determined student who hands out fliers on campus and persuades their peers. It is the dedicated Precinct Captain who organizes and executes a winning plan.

I want to thank the Elgin Democrats for having me here tonight. It is an honor and a privilege to be here with you. I am grateful for your warm hospitality. I want to thank Chairman Carl Strathmann, Vice Chair Art Malm, Secretary Bill Becker, and Treasurer Janice Bennett.

The good news, we have a lot going for us in this election cycle, if we are willing to stand up and toot our own horn. We have fabulous candidates, dedicated volunteers, and a strong national record to run on.

For example, President Barak Obama saved the auto industry and dug our economy out of the George W. Bush abyss. On this president’s watch, 14 million new jobs have been created, unemployment cut in half, and 17 million people now have healthcare.

New York Times columnist Timothy Egan points out that, “at no time in Saint Ronald Reagan’s eight years was the unemployment rate lower than it is today, at 5-percent – and this is after Obama was handed the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. Reagan lauded a federal deficit at 3.4% of gross national product. By last fall, Obama had done better than that, posting a deficit of 2.5 percent of GDP.

That’s pretty good for what Republicans describe as a business-hating socialist from Kenya.

But it is not just Barack Obama – it’s the Democratic Party. The research of economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson show that since 1947, the economy under Democratic presidents grew, on average, 4.35 percent per year; under Republicans, only 2.54 percent. Over the whole period, the economy was in recession for 49 quarters; Democrats held the White House during only eight of those quarters.

Democrats succeed because we ensure regulated free markets. Republicans believe in fraud markets, fake markets, and failed markets. Conservatives treat markets like casinos, playing high-risk games with your hard earned money.

New York Times columnist, and Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman wrote, “Obama’s record compares favorably on a number of indicators with that of George W. Bush. In particular, despite all the talk about job-killing policies, private-sector employment is eight million higher than it was when Barack Obama took office, twice the job gains achieved under his predecessor before the recession struck.”

At the very moment our economy is healing, the last thing we need is a return to trickle down, voodoo economics. We don’t need the Republican ethics of greed and graft, selfishness, and solipsism, that enriches the very few at the expense of the many. We don’t need careless consolidation, delirious deregulation, and the dismantling of common sense regulation on Wall Street, which led to the crash of 2008. We don’t want to return to bubble headed ideas that will lead to a bubble bursting economy.

All one has to do is look at the Republican governors to see the fecklessness and failure of their rule.

• Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal turned a $1 billion surplus into a $1.6 billion deficit. He was so inept that a Democrat in this red southern state replaced him.

• Perhaps the worst Republican Gov. is Sam Brownback of Kansas. The Republican legislature projects a $190 million hole. At the end of last year – Brownback had a job approval rating of 18-percent, 10 points lower than Barack Obama’s in this infamously red state.

• Aside from Bridge-gate, Chris Christie has been a disaster for New Jersey. An editorial in The Daily Record said, “The state’s economy stinks, at a time when most other states and the nation are doing far better. New Jersey has recovered just 61 percent of its jobs since the beginning of the Great Recession, while neighboring states have gotten all their jobs back and many more.”

• Thanks to miserly and miserable policies of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, residents in Flint Michigan are poisoned from lead in their filthy drinking water. I’d call this Republican-made disaster Watergate, but the name’s already taken. It is time for Rick Snyder to resign.

• Union busting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. He came up woefully short, creating only 56% of the jobs promised, which placed Wisconsin 35th in jobs creation.

• Even as Miami Beach is sinking, Florida Gov. Rick Scott sent out a memo forbidding state workers from using controversial phrases like “climate change” or “global warming.”

• Indiana Gov. Mike Pence promoted a “don’t serve the gays” bill. It was universally criticized by corporate America, which threatened to withdraw business from Indiana.

• Demonstrating the bigotry of the Republican Party, we have Maine governor Paul LePage, who talks about black drug dealers named Shifty coming up to Maine to impregnate white girls.

• And last, and probably least, we have Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. In his first year, he has no major accomplishments and due to his arrogance and intransigence, the state has been without a budget for an alarming 7 months. His policies have been brutal and cruel and targeted the most vulnerable populations. And now he’s holding Chicago public schools hostage for his turn around and stab you in the back agenda. His obsession with destroying unions and turning Illinois into a “work for less” state has gone from odd, to bizarre, to a full-blown fetish.

In a scathing article yesterday, Chicago Sun Times columnist Neil Steinberg said that Bruce Rauner did the impossible – he made Rod Blagojevich look good.

According to Steinberg: “At least Rod never hurt thousands of real Illinoisans, from struggling students who suddenly can’t pay for their college tuition to hard-working parents who have to worry about losing child care. He didn’t try to knock cups of milk out of the hands of preschoolers, nor join a wasp’s nest of Republican governors nationwide in barring desperate Syrian refugees whom the nation isn’t admitting anyway. He didn’t virtually push people out of their wheelchairs nor stiff honest creditors. Bruce Rauner has done all those things.”

In four days, Rauner will give his state of the state address. You know what the hardest job in the world is? Being Rauner’s speechwriter. Could you imagine the impossible task of having to fill an hour of Rauner’s accomplishments? Talk about writer’s block. You’d have 15-seconds of hamburger – and more than 59-minutes of hamburger helper. What could you say? He’s squandered an entire year, learned nothing, accomplishing zero, and still thinks he’s the emperor.

And the sad part is, Bruce Rauner is the highlight of the Illinois Republican Party. The other Republicans making news in 2015 were former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Rep. Aaron Schock. And then there’s Sen. Mark Kirk – an embarrassing human gaffe machine. Have you noticed how quiet he’s been lately? He seems like he’s auditioning for the Invisible Man. Clearly, his handlers are telling him that to when it comes Mark Kirk, less is more.

***
On foreign affairs, we also have a lot to be proud of. Yes, the world is a dangerous place. Thankfully, we have a president who tries diplomacy first, and saves bombing as a last resort. Obama has opened up Cuba and has avoided war with Iran, signing a landmark nuclear deal. Instead of the United States sending soldiers into Iran – Iran is sending nuclear fuel to Russia and sending U.S. hostages home to America. While this delicate relationship requires more work and Iran remains a dangerous country – it illustrates the stark difference between Democratic and Republican leadership.

Obama also worked with the rest of the world on a historic deal to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. There is no issue that will have a greater impact on our future – and only Democrats can lead the way. Because the Republicans are owned by Big Oil and rented by the Koch Brothers WCPTand the pollution lobby.

Contrast the maturity and success in the international arena with the hotheads and blustering blowhards on the Republican presidential Bozo Bus. Let us be clear – based on their own statements, a vote for a Republican is a vote for war.

When it comes to human rights – there is a gaping chasm between the two parties. The democrats believe that Black Lives Matter and they are working to create a fairer justice system, from policing to sentencing to prison reform. The Republicans often believe in turning a blind eye to injustice, pretending racial disparities barely exist, and privatizing prisons for enormous profits.

The Democratic Party was the driving force in favor of marriage equality and equal rights for LGBT people. President Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton have fought for LGBT people at both home and abroad. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley also have terrific records on LGBT issues.
On Thursday, Joe Biden was in Davos and urged the world’s leading corporations to exert their powerful influence on homophobic governments to ensure their LGBT citizens were treated fairly – with dignity and respect. Meanwhile, Back Obama has done more for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people than any president in history. Thank you Mr. President.

This election will be won on what we stand for. We are the backbone of freedom, the defender of personal liberty, the protector of minorities from persecution, the guarantor of free speech, religious pluralism and the nurturer of liberalizing movements across the globe. Far from believing in nothing, wherever progressive values prevail, civilizations flourish and people thrive.

Progressive values encourage exploration and education. We revere science and celebrate the inquisitive mind. We see knowledge as power and the key to a better future.

Meanwhile, modern conservatism is a Ponzi Scheme. It consists of the greedy using inflammatory wedge issues to trick the needy into voting against their own interests.

This is why they have an authoritarian bent. A new survey by University of Massachusetts researcher, Matthew MacWilliams, found that 49-percent of likely Republican primary voters surveyed score in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale – more than twice as many as Democratic voters.

I’m so proud that we are better than this. We don’t dumpster dive to find dangerous demagogues who promise to “make America great again.”

Instead, we fight for fairness and expand liberty to ensure America lives up to its ideals. We appeal to the nation’s better angels, rather than demonizing those who are different; or basing our immigration plan on bigotry.

Progressives. Democrats….We are the hope of the world embodied by the statue of liberty. We are the poetic promise of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. We strive to live the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. We are the heirs of the Civil Rights movement. We are the soaring promise of the New Deal. We are dreamers who fought for the Great Society. An America led by democrats is healthier, happier, saner, and safer.

Freedom and fairness. Leadership and liberty. Hope and happiness, and dignity and decency. That is who we are and for the good of Illinois and the nation we must prevail.

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Before I go, I must mention the Democratic primary. We have three wonderful candidates in the race. Each person in this room has their preferred candidate. And no doubt you will fight to see that your horse wins the derby.

We have a surprisingly tight race with Iowa and New Hampshire coming up. The nature of close contests is that they become hard fought and they have an edge. Sometimes they become a bit nasty. And in the coming weeks, we are going to see the candidates vividly highlighting their differences. They will not only discuss their attributes and fitness for office, but the perceived deficiencies of their opponents. Only one person can win.

This is going to lead to hurt feelings and bruised egos. This is going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of some. It will lead to bitterness in others. But, remember – this is politics and no matter how high-minded we try to be we inevitably end up low in the mud when races are tight.

No matter how upset we are – it is crucial that we must forgive and forget. We can’t cut off our noses to spite our face. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. For the sake of this country we love, for the future of our children, for the necessity of the Supreme Court, for creating a peaceful and prosperous tomorrow – we must unify and rally around the Democratic nominee.

Please promise me. Please pledge to me – that you will rally around, and you work for, and vote for whom ever gets the Democratic nomination. Because a President Trump or a President Cruz is not an option. If you thought George W. Bush was bad – you ain’t seen nothing yet.

So, let’s stand up, and stand tall, and stand strong, and bring back the American Dream, by fighting for the America we dream of – and the incredible nation we know we can be if we stand together. United we shall rise.

 

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