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Rare is the politician who looks out for you

Our wellbeing so connected to the health of the U.S. economy, it’s hard not to watch with trepidation the increasingly dysfunctional political situation there.
Long corrupted by corporate interests, the convoluted system of governance has proven completely incapable of doing what’s right for average Americans, opting instead to prop up the discredited financial services industry, trickle-down-economic theory and military-industrial complex.
Despite all his early rhetoric about hope and change, President Barack Obama has been unable to muster little of the former and almost none of the latter. The status quo remains: the gap between rich and poor widens, unemployment climbs, poverty levels soar, and social services such as health care grow scarcer.
In the bought-and-sold system, there is one lone voice of reason: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. A multi-term independent with links to the Democrats, Sanders isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.
“We have a deficit problem. It has to be addressed, but it cannot be addressed on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the poor, young people, the most vulnerable in this country,” he says of the economic squabbles in Congress. “The wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country have got to contribute. We’ve got to talk about shared sacrifice.”
A former mayor of Burlington, Vt. – perhaps his proximity to the Canadian border aided him on the path to becoming a self-styled democratic socialist – Sanders represented his state in the House of Representatives  from 1991 to 2007 before being elected to the Senate. He has faced few serious challenges in all that time, typically winning handily, a clear indication the electorate supports his positions.
In the recent battle over debt ceilings and the federal budget, he continued to point out that hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare have gone untouched even as Tea Party-fueled cuts to social programs hurt people and the economy.
Sanders has called for closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He also introduced legislation to impose a 5.4 per cent surtax on millionaires that would yield up to $50 billion a year. Spending cuts must be paired with new revenue so the federal budget is not balanced solely on the backs of working families, he argues.
This week, he went on the offensive over a new report showing massive jumps in the U.S. poverty rate.
A U.S. Census Bureau report released this week found that more than 46 million Americans, about one in six, lived below the poverty line in 2010. The census report also said that about 49.9 million Americans lacked health insurance, a number that has soared by 13.3 million since 2000.
The United States has both the highest overall poverty rate and the highest childhood poverty rate of any major industrialized country on earth, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While 21.6 per cent of American children live in poverty, the rate is 3.7 per cent in Denmark, 5.3 per cent in Finland, 6.7 per cent in Iceland, 8.3 per cent in Germany, 9.3 per cent in France.
“I suppose we can take some comfort in that our numbers are not quite as bad as Turkey (23.5 per cent); Chile (24 per cent); and Mexico (25.8 per cent),” Sanders says.
At a time of medical breakthroughs in treatments for cancer and other terrible diseases, the reality is that life expectancy for low-income women has declined over the past 20 years in 313 counties in the United States. Those in the top 20 per cent of American incomes live, on average, at least 6.5 years longer than those in the lowest income group.
“I recite these facts because I believe that as bad as the current situation is with regard to poverty, it will likely get worse in the immediate future,” he notes. “As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street we are now in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.  Millions of workers have lost their jobs and have slipped out of the middle class and into poverty. Poverty is increasing.”
Why can’t more politicians be this direct? Why aren’t more of them standing up for what benefits average citizens?
Of course, many Americans – including all those Tea Party supporters – don’t recognize the reason for their decline. Partisan reasoning has Americans believing Republicans are all about smaller government and fiscal responsibility, when just the opposite is true. Substitute Canadians and Conservatives here and you can see we’re in the same boat, albeit without some of the worst fundamentalist dogma coming out of the States.
If voters are so polarized that they can’t see the obvious – they’ve truly drunk deeply of the kool-aid – then Americans can never have a rationale debate about how to move forward.
Of course, that assumes real change is actually a possibility. Keeping the public occupied with mindless partisanship, petty bickering and, above all, pop-culture distractions works out just fine for those who are happy with the status quo: the real power elites who have no interest in changing a good thing.
As Sanders points, it’s the average person who’s footing the bill for bailing out the rich corporations. And many of those taxpayers are oblivious to the facts, which is true on this side of the border as well.

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