By Dawson Raspuzzi
The war in Iraq, global warming, health care, the increase in poverty, a diminishing middle class and veterans' benefits were topics that got most of the attention from Sen. Bernard Sanders, who spoke to approximately 150 people on Sunday at the Holiday Inn in Rutland Town.
Sanders hosted the meeting to give Vermonters an opportunity to hear what he had to say about what's been going on in Washington and to ask him questions.
Sanders spoke for the first half of the meeting about the work he and the other members of his five Senate committees have recently accomplished, as well as his plans for the future.
Sanders often reminded those in attendance about the difficult times that befall the nation and gave hope to how the nation might be able to overcome these obstacles — making a point to share his opinion of President Bush periodically, to the enjoyment of the crowd.
When the topic of poverty came up, Sanders noted how he supported the bill to raise the minimum wage. "The day has got to come where if you work a 40-hour week you can make a livable wage," he said.
Later he talked about a bill he expects to pass soon, which calls for the largest increase of funding for veterans in history. His concern for veterans got loud applause, especially from such veterans in attendance as Al Peterson, who served in World War II and Korea.
Peterson said afterwards Sanders helped him get his medication when he ran into a problem with the Veterans Affairs office.
Sanders touched on how important investing in our nation's children is to ensure a bright future for them. He blamed improper nurturing as the leading cause of why people end up in jail or reliant on drugs. "Our president's budget includes spending $10 billion every month in Iraq … but he thinks it's proper to veto funding for our children," he said.
"The Bush administration will go down as one of the worst in history," he said later to a roomful of applause.
Discussing global warming, Sanders said even though Bush doesn't realize how important the issue truly is, scientists are now saying they underestimated its effects. He then said it can be stopped with the right people leading the efforts because they have the knowledge and technology to reverse greenhouse emissions.
He mentioned the CAFE bill that, if passed, will raise the average fuel economy standards for all vehicles from 20 to 35 miles per gallon, dramatically reducing the amount of greenhouse emissions.
Sanders then spent the second half of the meeting fielding questions from the audience.
One man said he and others have lost much of their faith in government in recent years, and he wondered what could be done about it.
Sanders agreed that a lot of people have lost their trust in the American government, but looked at the issue optimistically, saying, "I think we can turn it around."
In a democratic society, people are in charge of electing the officials so "people must accept the proposition that we can make government work," Sanders said.
In answer to another question, Sanders discussed a bill he supports that would increase the fee for companies to outsource. He said he will also do his part by not supporting the trade agreement bills he expects to be proposed in the coming months.
"I think that he's right from A to Z," said attendee Sal Cintorino.
"We're very lucky to have Bernie Sanders representing us —he's one of the true independents in the country, which we need more of," said his wife, Margaret Cintorino.
On the other side of the room, Dale Christie said he liked that Sanders always addresses the issues people want to hear about.
"I agree with most of what he said, especially with his views on outsourcing," he said.
Chet Warman said he isn't as optimistic as Sanders, although he is glad that Sanders still has hope for the country.
By Dawson Raspuzzi
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