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Bernie Sanders Proposes New Economic Bill of Rights

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From Truthout

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders
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Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders delivered a full-throated defense of democratic socialism in his June 12 speech at George Washington University. Sanders quoted FDR's 1944 State of the Union address: "We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence."

Sanders, like FDR, proposed an Economic Bill of Rights, including the rights to health care, affordable housing, education, a living wage and retirement.

"Economic rights are human rights," Sanders declared. "That is what I mean by democratic socialism."

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Sanders cited figures of vast wealth disparity in the United States, where "the top 1 percent of people own more wealth than the bottom 92 percent." He said there is higher income and wealth inequality today than at any time since the 1920s. And, Sanders stated, "despite an explosion in technology and worker productivity, the average wage of the American worker in real dollars is no higher than it was 46 years ago and millions of people are forced to work two or three jobs just to survive."

He also noted, "in America today, the very rich live on average 15 years longer than the poorest Americans."

Economic Rights Are Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets forth two different categories of human rights: (1) civil and political rights, and (2) economic, social and cultural rights.

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Civil and political rights comprise the rights to life, a fair trial and self-determination; freedom of speech, expression, assembly and religion; and freedom from torture, cruel treatment and arbitrary detention. Economic, social and cultural rights include the rights to health care, education and social security; the right to form and join unions and to strike; and the right to equal pay for equal work, unemployment insurance, paid maternity leave, and the prevention, treatment and control of diseases.

These two types of human rights are enshrined in two international treaties the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The United States has ratified the ICCPR, but not the ICESCR. U.S. policy since the Reagan administration has been to define human rights only as civil and political rights, excluding economic, social and cultural rights from the realm of human rights.

The ICESCR, which has been ratified by 169 countries, guarantees the rights to work with favorable conditions, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education, to housing, to an adequate standard of living, and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and cultural freedom. It protects the rights to form and join trade unions, social security and social insurance, equal rights for men and women, and protection and assistance to the family.

Cuba, whose human rights record is frequently criticized by the U.S. government, puts the United States to shame with its recognition of economic rights. Cubans enjoy universal health care, universal free education including higher education, the right to form and join unions, and government-subsidized abortion and family planning. Cuba has a higher life expectancy than the U.S., as well as a relatively small ecological footprint due to low energy consumption.

Democratic Socialism vs. Corporate Socialism

Trump and his fellow oligarchs oppose democratic socialism, Sanders said, but "they don't really oppose all forms of socialism." Indeed, "they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires."

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Sanders cited the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street in 2008 by the Treasury Department "after their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior created the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression with millions of Americans losing their jobs, their homes and their life savings, Wall Street's religious adherence to unfettered capitalism suddenly came to an end."

He also mentioned tax breaks and loopholes for fossil fuel companies, pharmaceutical companies, Amazon, and the Trump family who "got $885 million worth of tax breaks and subsidies for your family's housing empire that is built on racial discrimination."

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)
 

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