Bernie Sanders: Russia and Stormy Daniels distract us from real problem of inequality | US news | The Guardian

Bernie Sanders: Russia and Stormy Daniels distract us from real problem of inequality | US news | The Guardian

More than a million viewers watch online as Sanders joins likes of Michael Moore and Elizabeth Warren to talk poverty

More than a million viewers watch online as Sanders joins likes of Michael Moore and Elizabeth Warren to talk poverty

Enough about Russia and Stormy Daniels, the leaders of the progressive movement want to talk about growing income inequality in the US.

At a live-streamed town hall event on Monday night, Senator Bernie Sanders once again circumvented cable news to host a 90-minute panel discussion on poverty, the decline of the middle class and the consolidation of corporate power.

He was joined in Washington by Senator Elizabeth Warren, director Michael Moore and economist Darrick Hamilton while roughly 1.7 million viewers tuned in to watch online, according to Sanders’ office.

Speaking to the Guardian before the event, Sanders said: “We have to fight Trump every day. But we have to not lose our vision as to where we want to go as a country. We can talk about the disastrous role Russia has played in trying to undermine American democracy. That is enormously important. But we also have to talk about the fact that we have the highest rate of child poverty in any major economy of the world.”

The event was streamed online by liberal video outlets – including NowThis, The Young Turks and The Guardian was a media partner for the event, which follows a similar town hall Sanders organized in January on universal healthcare.

Sanders and Moore both complained about the media’s poor coverage of inequality and working people’s struggles. Moore said: “You turn on the TV and it’s ‘Russia, Russia, Russia!’” Sanders interjected: “And don’t forget Stormy Daniels!”

Moore continued: “These are all shiny keys to distract us … We should know about the West Virginia strike. What an inspiration that would be. But they don’t show this, Bernie, because, what would happen if they did?”

Panelists were not shy to point out who they felt were the culprits fuelling inequality in the United States. Its three wealthiest men – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – who collectively earn more than the poorest half of Americans, were singled out as contributing to the widening wealth gap. So too were lobbyists like the American Legislative Exchange Council and major political donors such as the Koch brothers. And, of course, representatives in Congress who are beholden to corporate donors.

“Whether the representatives are Democrats or Republicans, they go for the money. How do you fight that?” asked Moore. Speaking of Democratic donors, Moore tickled the audience with a story about a red carpet run-in with a Goldman Sachs executive at the Oscars. “The CEO of Goldman Sachs said ‘Why are you attacking us? We are Democrats’.” That, Moore suggested, was part of the problem.

“We need a party that’s going to be there for the people, the working people … We need to challenge people on our own side of the fence to stand up and do their job for the working people of this country,” Moore said.

Speaking about the need to inspire voters, he added: “The biggest party is the non-voters’ party.” He rejected the notion that non-voters were apathetic, saying that skipping the polls was an “an act of civil disobedience”. He added: “They aren’t going to vote, unless you give them a reason to vote.”

The panelists were keen to highlight solutions to rising inequality, and almost all agreed on the importance of strong unions.

“Unions built America’s middle class. It will take unions to rebuild America’s middle class,” said Warren, to thunderous applause.

The need for progressive taxation was also stressed. Speaking about lobbying efforts behind the recent tax cuts, she added: “We have to call it out for what it is: corruption. This is an organized effort to take over our government, and make the government work better and better for a thinner and thinner slice of America.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Sanders also warned about the growing concentration of corporate power. “When you have companies like Amazon that have extraordinary power, when you have companies like Facebook that to a significant degree control discourse, am I concerned about monopoly power? Absolutely. We need to have the kind of discussion that Congress has not had yet.”

While Sanders doesn’t agree with President Trump’s tariffs, he said that they are a “weapon you can use” to address competitors from low-wage countries. “American workers are put in an extreme disadvantage in that kind of competition,” Sanders said, adding: “We have to go broader [than Trump’s tariffs]. I have called for the ending of permanent normal trade relations with China and Nafta. I think trade is a positive thing, but it has to be done in a way that is fair.”

Trump was barely mentioned during the event, but there was one rapturous moment when his name came up. Moore, quoting a Democratic candidate running in Michigan, said: “In this election you are not electing a member to the House of Representatives, you are electing a jury for the impeachment of Donald J Trump. Never forget that over these next few months.”

But Moore was quick to bring the audience back to the challenge at hand. “With that in mind, I want to make this clear … If we just get rid of Trump, and return to what it was like the day before Trump, how were things then? With healthcare? With poverty? We have to move forward. And we have to provide the leadership and vision to make that happen.”

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