Not Richistan

Judy Daloz is the nurse at St. Johnsbury Elementary School. Every day she sees children who show up for school hungry. She knows parents who dread eye exams because they cannot afford to take their kids to see eye doctors, let alone buy them glasses. She knows some families have trouble scraping together the $15 fee for a birth certificate needed to enroll each of their children in the Dr. Dynassaur program. Nurse Daloz talked about her experiences at a town meeting on poverty that Senator B

Judy Daloz is the nurse at St. Johnsbury Elementary School. Every day she sees children who show up for school hungry. She knows parents who dread eye exams because they cannot afford to take their kids to see eye doctors, let alone buy them glasses. She knows some families have trouble scraping together the $15 fee for a birth certificate needed to enroll each of their children in the Dr. Dynassaur program. Nurse Daloz talked about her experiences at a town meeting on poverty that Senator Bernie Sanders held earlier this month in the Northeast Kingdom. Other panelists described similar realties, including how more and more Vermonters need to use food shelves in order to survive. This is not Richistan.

"There is something very wrong in our country when poverty is increasing and the middle class is shrinking at exactly the same time as the wealthiest people are becoming much wealthier. That growing economic divide is not what America is supposed to be about," Sanders said.

"It's not just the Northeast Kingdom," he added. "Recently, I met with a group of young people in Burlington, mostly college graduates in their twenties. They spoke about how they're struggling to pay off college loans, secure decent health insurance and find affordable housing on wages that are just not doing the trick.

Despite what we're hearing from the Bush administration, the truth is that the economy is not doing well for the middle class and working families of Vermont or the rest of the country. Sometimes it seems like Bush is the president of Richistan.

Richistan is not really a place. It's the name of a book by Robert Frank, a Wall Street Journal reporter. He writes about the world of the super rich and how much they spend on fancy watches and jewelry and - to relieve the pressure from all the tough choices they must make about where to spend their millions - on spas.

Frank wrote on his blog that "the title comes from a chance meeting I had a few years ago at a yacht show in Florida. I was walking along the docks, marveling at hundreds of giant boats parked in the marina. I had seen plenty of yachts before, but never so many at once. I got to talking with a yacht owner from Texas, and as he looked out over the boats he said: ‘You look at all these boats and you'd think everyone was making loads of money. It's like it's a different country.'

"The words stuck with me. The wealthy weren't just getting wealthier — they were forming their own virtual country. They were wealthier than most nations, with the top 1 percent controlling $17 trillion in wealth. And they were increasingly building a self-contained world, with its own health-care system (concierge doctors), travel system (private jets, destination clubs) and language. ("Who's your household manager?") They had created their own breakaway republic — one I called Richistan."

Senator Sanders talked about Richistan in a speech on the real world where regular Americans live. To watch part of the speech, click here.