Not really. The title of this post might have been named: "Black Lives Matter to Bernie Sanders". But one might wonder why a small group of people would want to rudely interrupt interviews with two of the very people who would advocate on behalf of the African-American population — and who might be the most likely to support their causes. It would seem a bit counter-productive to their ambitions.
Case in point: Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley were recently interrupted by protesters at the annual Netroots Nation convention in Phoenix, Arizona — where Senator Elizabeth Warren had earlier given her keystone speech (when no protestors had rudely interrupted her).
And the moderator, Jose Antonio Vargas, almost seemed to instigate the disruption — and was equally as rude, dismissive and disrespectful to Senator Sanders. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton had dissed the progressive convention, because of a fund-raising dinner she had to attend in her home State of Arkansas.
"Each candidate was to be interviewed one-on-one by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas; O’Malley first, then Sanders immediately afterward. But Vargas did not get very far into his questioning of O’Malley before a crowd of Black Lives Matter activist marched through the conference hall ballroom and up to the stage, chanting: “What side are you on?"
The town hall’s audience appeared divided between those who cheered on the protests and those who were baffled and irritated by the interruption. Netroots Nation’s leadership attempted to strike a balance between giving credence to the protesters’ grievances and calling for order."
"Sanders tried to address the roughly 3,000 Netroots activists as many of the protesters shouted at him and disrupted his remarks. At one point, Sanders said: "Black lives of course matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and if you don't want me to be here, that's OK."
Sanders was originally scheduled to meet with representatives of the organization Black Lives Matter after his speech, but his campaign manager attended the meeting instead." (Later Bernie had to attend his scheduled rally at the Phoenix convention center.)
The Washington Post reported the incident a little differently, writing: "The protest, however, did not appear aimed at O’Malley. The protesters remained as Sanders appeared on stage." [But it began with comments by O'Malley. Watch the entire fiasco with Bernie Sanders here.]
Despite the repeated interruptions and the moderator's uncouth rudeness (he couldn't get off his iPhone for one minute, and was putting his hand in Sanders' face), Bernie did the best that anyone else could do under similar circumstances. Maybe the moderator, Jose Antonio Vargas, really was a Hillary Clinton operative who had infiltrated the Netroots Convention.
An article at The Nation made no apologies (July 21, 2015) in a post: Why the Black Lives Matter Protest at Netroots Nation Was Long Overdue: It's time Democratic candidates offer voters a meaningful plan for tackling systemic racism:
"By forcing the candidates to respond, these activists have changed the tone for the 2016 election season, putting Democrats on notice that they cannot expect the support of black voters—particularly young black voters—without speaking directly and meaningfully to issues of race and state power currently gripping the country ... In the wake of the Netroots protest, some conference attendees and observers are saying that the action wasn’t strategic, that the activists were rude and unnecessarily disruptive at an event that they could have influenced at a more opportune time and in a less aggressive way ... "
[NOTE: I wonder what these people had also expected of President Obama. And I'll be waiting to see this same group of people heckle, interrupt, and storm the stage the next time Hillary Clinton speaks at a political convention or town hall meeting.]
Later that day (4-minute video below) you can hear Senator Bernie Sanders at his Phoenix rally talking to his biggest crowd ever about how the Republicans use "divide and conquer" strategies with voters — and his stand on immigration reform, race issues, black incarcerations and police brutality — and then again, you can hear people in the audience shouting "Black lives matter!" (His full speech at the Phoenix rally is here.)
But some in the media and some of Bernie Sanders political rivals are also trying to use a "divide and conquer" strategy by implying that Sanders doesn't support immigration reform, and complains that he doesn't say enough about the Black community. Not true at all — and Bernie Sanders' stand on immigration policy has been deliberately misconstrued.
One example was today in the Washington Post newsletter regarding Sanders' interview with Jose Antonio Vargas:
"WEAK ON IMMIGRATION—Sanders helped kill comprehensive reform in 2007, siding with labor over Latinos. Some Latino activists have complained that Sanders does not talk about the issue as much as Hillary Clinton ... Moderator Jose Antonio Vargas (an undocumented immigrant who formerly wrote for The Washington Post) pressed Sanders on his vote opposing the 2007 immigration bill, which Clinton supported. Sanders explained that, while he backs a pathway to citizenship, he worries about a flood of cheap labor entering the country and taking jobs from blue-collar Americans."
Which makes perfect sense: If jobs are already scarce, and wages have long been stagnant, and if many good-paying jobs have been offshored to foreign workers in low-wage countries (or were insourced to foreign workers in the U.S. on guestworker H-1B visas), then this isn't only a concern for white workers or blue-collar workers, but is just as much a concern for Africa-American and Latino workers as well. But the moderator, Jose Antonio Vargas, didn't seem to want to hear about that.
While it may be true that Hillary may "talk" more about immigration and/or Black unemployment, it's mostly because she has always pandered to minorities for their votes; but what has she or her husband really done for them? Any more than than Obama?
As for immigration, it's the House and Senate in Congress that introduces and votes on federal immigration laws. The President only signs these bills into law or vetos them. If Hillary were elected, she could do no more for immigration reform or black unemployment than Obama currently can — or she might have already offered Obama some sage advice as to "how" when she first started working for him.
So no matter who is president (Obama, Bernie or Hillary), with the Congress we have today, expect little change unless a Republican is elected — and why mid-term elections are also important to vote in.
But if 12 million illegal (PC: "undocumented") immigrants are already living here in the U.S. and currently working in low-wage jobs, while millions in the Black community are already unemployed, Bernie Sanders believes that we should do more to lift THEIR wages and find THEM jobs first (just as with everyone else) — before allowing for any additional immigration.
When Sanders says "all Americans" or "the American people", or "American workers", he's not excluding Blacks and Latinos. But yet, he is being nitpicked by some for not always specifically mentioning particular ethnicities and races. So if Bernie is color blind, shouldn't he be getting kudos instead?
And let's be honest, when we say "immigration", most people equate this to Mexicans storming over our Southern border taking jobs that "Americans don't want to do" — but would, if they paid more. But corporations aren't giving these immigrants all the better-paying jobs. Those jobs usually go to H-1B visas workers from India or China for depressed wages — that is, if the jobs aren't outsourced/offshored. Ironically, Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. also suffer when jobs are outsourced to Mexico (and elsewhere).
Unless immigrants possess rare skills and/or are very highly educated, they and Blacks and young people are handed the worst jobs — just like everyone else these days (just like old white guys like me who aren't being called for job interviews either, no matter how skilled or educated we are).
But Bernie Sanders DID support a path for immigrants which eventually leads to citizenship. What concerned him most (that moderator Jose Antonio Vargas couldn't seem to understand), was that the business lobbying group, the Chamber of Commerce, wanted this particular immigration bill because it allowed for millions of low-wage temporary workers to flood the job market, such as those who come here on H-1B visas, further depressing already stagnant wages. Meaning, it would hurt ALL workers who are currently living in the U.S. (Latinos, Black, Whites, Asians, etc.)
On his website Bernie Sanders says, "Sadly, in America today, more than 25 percent of students drop out of high school, and in some minority neighborhoods that number is even greater. What kind of jobs will be available for those young workers? This is not [immigration] legislation to create jobs, raise wages and strengthen our economy. This is legislation to lower wages, and increase corporate profits."
Just as Hillary Clinton said in her recent economic speech:
"There are nearly 6 million young people aged 16 to 24 in America today who are not in school or at work. The numbers for young people of color are particularly staggering. A quarter of young black men and nearly 15 percent of all Latino youth cannot find a job. We’ve got to do a better way of coming up to match the growing middle-class incomes we want to generate with more pathways into the middle-class. I firmly believe that the best anti-poverty program is a job, but that’s hard to say if there are not enough jobs for people that we are trying to help lift themselves out of poverty."
Now compare Hillary's remarks to Bernie's: 7 months before the Great Recession officially began, and a little over 1 year before the stock market crashed and the mass layoffs began, this is what Senator Bernie Sanders actually had to say on immigration, jobs, wages and offshoring:
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act addresses the concern all of us have about securing our borders, something I strongly support. It addresses the need to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants, something the Bush administration has neglected. It addresses the contentious and difficult issue of how we respond to the reality that there are some 12 million illegal immigrants in this country today, and carves out a path which eventually leads to citizenship, which I also support. What concerns me are provisions in the bill that would bring low-wage workers into this country in order to depress the already declining wages of American workers. With poverty increasing and the middle-class shrinking, we must not force American workers into even more economic distress.
Randel K. Johnson, Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The New York Times on May 21, "We do not have enough workers to support a growing economy. We have members who pay good wages but face worker shortages every day."
Mr. Johnson and many of the other big business organizations and corporations that helped craft this legislation are not being quite accurate when they make statements such as this. The major economic problem facing our country today is not that we don't have enough workers to fill good paying jobs. Rather, the problem is that we don't have enough good-paying, livable-wage jobs for American workers -- and the situation is getting worse.
Over the last six years, 5.4 million more Americans slipped into poverty, with the national minimum wage remaining at a disgraceful $5.15. And, by the way, Mr. Johnson's organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opposes raising that minimum wage. With more than 5 million more Americans slipping into poverty, where are all those good paying jobs that these workers can't seem to find?
Over the last six years, nearly 7 million more Americans have lost their health insurance. Where are all those good jobs that provide benefits like a strong health insurance package? Where are all those good jobs that Mr. Johnson talks about when millions of Americans are losing their health insurance completely or are asked to pay substantially more for inferior coverage?
Over the last six years, since President Bush has been in office, some 3 million American workers have lost their pensions. If all of these good jobs are out there, how come more and more workers are slipping into poverty, more and more workers are losing their health insurance, and more and more workers are losing their pensions?
From the year 2000 [When Bill Clinton gave PNTR to China] to 2005, median household income declined by $1,273, and for five consecutive years median household income for working age families has gone down. The real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers has declined steadily; they earned $27,060 in real dollars in 1979, $25,646 in 2005. While women have done better in recent years, real median weekly earnings for males has actually gone down since 1979.
Despite Mr. Johnson's assertion, the economic reality facing our country is that the middle class is shrinking, poverty is increasing, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider. One of the major tenets of free market economics is the law of supply and demand. Under that basic economic proposition, if an employer is having a difficult time finding a worker, as Mr. Johnson suggests, then his solution is to provide higher wages and better benefits. That's what the free market economy is supposed to be about. That's what supply and demand is all about. That's how you attract the workers that you need: better wages and better benefits.
How can it be, therefore, that there is a supposed scarcity of workers out there at the same time that wages and benefits are going down? That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. What this legislation is not about is addressing the real needs of American workers. It is not about raising wages and improving benefits. What it is about is bringing, over a period of time, millions of low-wage temporary workers into this country, with the result that wages and benefits will be depressed even further.
Let's talk about what really exists in our economy today. According to the "May 2005 Occupational Wages and Estimates" by the Vermont Department of Labor - the latest such report available - lists the ten largest categories of employment in Vermont and the wages that workers earn who do that work. The occupation with the most employment in Vermont is that of cashier, people who work at retail stores and who take in money. The average wage for this category of workers is $8.71 an hour, and many of those workers have inadequate or no health care at all. These figures have likely gone up in the last few years, but I suspect not very much. Are these the "good wages" that the Chamber of Commerce is referring to?
In that same survey, the second largest job category in Vermont is that of retail salesperson. That mean hourly wage was, as of two years ago, was $11.88, better than cashiers earn, but still less than $26,000 a year. On and on it goes. Book-keepers: $14.14 an hour; waiters and waitresses: $8.97 an hour; secretaries: $12.91 an hour; office clerks $11.17 an hour; janitors and cleaners $10.51 an hour. "Here is a list of jobs available today in northern Vermont and in the Littleton, New Hampshire area, as posted by the Vermont Department of Labor. Flagger, full time $10 an hour; dispatcher, $11 an hour; home care attendant, $7.53 an hour; store clerk, $8 an hour; construction laborer, $11 an hour; receptionist, $8-10 an hour; shipping, $11 an hour; machine operator $8-10 an hour; and on and on it goes. "Compare those numbers to the livable wage, as determined by the Vermont State Legislature, for a single person with no children. It is $14.26 an hour. For a single parent, one child, that number is $21.40 an hour. Single parent, two children, $25.59 an hour. Two parents, two children and one wage earner, $24.89.
So here is my concern about the immigration legislation. At a time when millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and have seen a real cut in wages or benefits, this legislation would bring hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers from other countries into the United States every year. If wages are already this low in Vermont, what happens when more and more people are forced to compete for these jobs?
Sadly, in America today, more than 25 percent of students drop out of high school, and in some minority neighborhoods that number is even greater. What kind of jobs will be available for those young workers? This is not legislation to create jobs, raise wages and strengthen our economy. This is legislation to lower wages, and increase corporate profits. This is wrong and is not an approach that we should be taking.
Corporate leaders are telling us why they want more and more foreign workers to come into this country to compete with American workers. I find it very interesting that a few years ago, during the debate over trade policy, they had another message. According to an Associated Press article on July 1, 2004, Thomas Donohue, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "urged American companies to send jobs overseas," and said that "Americans affected by offshoring should stop whining." Mr. Donahue told the Commonwealth Club of California that "one job sent overseas, if it happens to be my job, is one too many. But the benefits of offshoring jobs outweighs the cost."
Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, said in January of 2004, "There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore." Her company has shipped over 5,000 jobs to India, outsourced almost all of their notebook PC design, production and logistics to Taiwan, and manufactures much of their products in China. Ms. Fiorina may have had a point. A few years ago, she lost her job as CEO due to poor performance. Unlike the thousands of jobs she was responsible for shipping overseas, Ms. Fiorina walked away with a $21 million golden parachute. Hewlett-Packard, among many other corporate leaders in outsourcing, just coincidentally happens to be one of those corporations most active in this immigration debate. In other words, if they're not shutting down plants in this country and moving them abroad, they are fighting to displace American workers here by bringing foreign workers into this country.
Another big supporter of bringing more foreign workers into this country is Microsoft. Here's what Microsoft's vice-president for Windows engineering said in Businessweek in 2003: "It's definitely a cultural change to use foreign workers. But if I can save a dollar, hallelujah." Four years ago, Brian Valentine, a Microsoft senior vice president, urged his managers to "pick something to move offshore today. And Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer has said, "Lower the pay of U.S. professionals to $50,000, and it won't make sense for employers to put up with the hassle of doing business in developing countries."
What is interesting about corporate America's support for the immigration legislation is that their arguments now distinctly contradict the arguments they made when they told us how good outsourcing is for this country and how good the North American Free Trade Agreement and permanent normal trade relations with China would be. What hypocrisy! One day they shut down plants with high-skilled, well-paid American workers, and move to China, where they pay desperate people 50 cents an hour. On the next day, they have the nerve to come before the U.S Congress and tell us that they can't find skilled workers to do the jobs that they need. Give me a break.
We all know what's going on here. Greed, rather than love of country, has become the driving force behind corporate decisions. While corporate profits are at their highest share of Gross Domestic Product since 1960, up more than 90 percent since President Bush took office, median earnings are at their lowest share since 1947. While millions of workers are working longer hours for lower wages, the CEOs of major corporations now earn more than 400 times what their employees make. Today in America, the top 300,000 Americans earn nearly as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans combined. Today in America, the richest 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent and we now have the most uneven distribution of wealth and income of any major nation on earth.
We hear over and over again from the large multinational corporations that there are jobs that Americans just won't do, and that we need foreign workers to fill those jobs. Well, that's really not quite true. If you pay an American or any person good wages and good benefits, they will do the work. Yes, it will be difficult to attract an American worker to work, in say, a meatpacking house if the pay is 24 percent lower today than it was in 1983. But, guess what? In 1980, when the wages of meatpacking workers were 17 percent higher than the average manufacturing sector wage, because they had a strong union, American workers were prepared to do that job. There are thousands of American contractors in Iraq today risking their lives in one of the most dangerous places in the world. They are there doing these dangerous jobs because they are being paid well to do that work.
I've talked about the crisis in terms of low-wage jobs. Now let me say a few words about the problems facing our country in terms of high-wage jobs. While our corporate friends bemoan the lack of skilled professionals, and want to bring hundreds of thousands more employees into this country with a bachelor's degree, an M.A. or a Ph.D, earnings for college graduates were 5 percent lower in 2004 than they were in 2000, according to White House economists. And when it comes to the H-1B Visa, our corporate friends tell us that Americans can't do, or are too dumb to do, the following jobs.
Information Technology Computer professionals;
Journalists and editors;
Foreign Law advisors;
Technical publication writers;
Market research analysts;
Fashion Models; and
Teachers in elementary or secondary schools.
I find it beyond absurd for anyone to claim that we have a shortage of lawyers in this country. I find it beyond belief that we can't find enough Americans willing and able to be teachers, psychologists, journalists, or accountants. I do recognize that we have a serious problem in terms of labor shortages in a number of areas. In my view, our major strategy must be to educate our own students in these areas so that they can benefit from these good-paying jobs.
Incredibly, at a time when we have a major shortage in nurses in this country, some 50,000 Americans were turned away from nursing schools. What is the sense of that? We should be expanding nursing education substantially and not depleting the supply of nurses from the Philippines and other countries. At a time when we have a significant shortage of dentists in rural areas, we should be increasing the number of dental faculty in this country and training Americans to become dentists. While there is a dispute about whether or not we have a shortage in information technology jobs, there is no doubt that we should make sure that enough Americans are educated in math and computer science as is possible.
The bottom line is that we have to take a very hard look at our educational system and, among other things, make college education affordable to every American, and increase our focus on math and science. How absurd it is that over the last many years college and graduate schools have become less and less affordable and now when we don't have the professionals we need, some believe the long-term solution is to simply bring in professionals from other countries.
So as the debate on the immigration bill continues, I am going to be doing everything that I can to make sure that any immigration reform legislation lifts wages up and provides increased educational opportunities.