BENNINGTON -- Occupy Wall Street rallies have spread like fire across the country in recent weeks to protest corporate greed and financial inequalities -- some of the same issues Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has been speaking out against for years.
As the movement continues picking up steam, with weekly events planned in Burlington and others scheduled in Vermont in Brattleboro and Rutland, Sanders said he isn’t surprised the American people are taking a stand.
While many officials in Congress have been mum about the protests, Sanders said he is in support of the demonstrators who are bringing attention to the "abuse" on Wall Street.
"Shining a light on Wall Street’s abuse is a very positive thing, and I think it touches a nerve because the American people instinctively understand that something is wrong with the people on Wall Street whose greed, recklessness and illegal behavior caused this recession (and) resulted in millions of people losing their jobs, their homes, (and) their life savings. That’s what Wall Street did," Sanders said in a phone interview.
Sanders said Wall Street deserves the scrutiny as the "most powerful, secretive, and significantly destructive institution in the United States of America."
For Sanders, it’s a moral issue when the 400 wealthiest people in the country control more wealth than the lower 150 million Americans, and when the top 1 percent earn more income than the lowest 50 percent.
Considering those figures, the senator said, it’s up to the American people and the officials they elected to Congress to demand fundamental reforms on Wall Street in order to create some sort of financial stability.
"We’ve got to raise those issues and put as much pressure on the president and Congress until they start addressing those issues," he said. Even though many politicians are not speaking publicly about the demonstrations, Sanders said he believes his counterparts are getting the message.
The senator has a half dozen proposals to address the issues raised by the movement and change the political, economic and financial system to "work for all Americans, not just the top 1 percent."
The first step, he said, is to break up the county’s six largest financial institutions that together have assets equal to more than 60 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and issue two-thirds of all credit cards and half of all mortgages.
"Everything being equal, we can expect that sooner or later they will, through their greed and recklessness, create a bubble (and) the bubble will burst and the taxpayers will once again be asked to bail them out. And if we don’t bail them out they will bring down the economy," Sanders said. "If a financial institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist."
Second, Sanders said, the Federal Reserve should provide the same type of low-interest loans to small businesses it gave every major financial institution in the country, foreign banks, multi-national corporations, and some of the wealthiest people in the world to the tune of $16 trillion at the same time Congress was bailing out some of the country’s largest corporations.
"What we’re saying is if the Fed could lend out $16 trillion of low-interest loans to the corporations that are too big to fail, then why can’t they lend out $16 trillion in low-interest loans to small businesses," he said.
Sanders is also proposing capping credit card interest rates, putting a stop to Wall Street oil speculation, demand Wall Street invest in job creation, and establish a Wall Street speculation fee on credit default swaps, derivatives stock options and futures, as use to be in place many years ago.
Many of Sanders’ ideas have been proposed before without receiving overwhelming support.
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