In my view, the media spends too much time treating politics like a baseball game, a personality contest or a soap opera. We need to focus less on polls, fundraisers, gaffes and who’s running for president in four years, and more on the very serious problems facing the American people — problems which get relatively little discussion. I hope that’s what our town meeting on CNN tonight will accomplish.
There are a lot of important questions to talk about, including:
How do we stop the movement toward oligarchy in our country in which the economic and political life of the United States is increasingly controlled by a handful of billionaires?
Are we content with the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we are experiencing? Should the top one-tenth of 1 percent own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent? Should one family in this country, the Waltons of the Walmart retail chain, own as much as the bottom 40 percent of our people? Should 52 percent of all new income be going into the pockets of the top 1 percent?
While the very rich become much richer, are we satisfied with having the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on earth? Can a worker really survive on the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour? How can a working-class family afford $15,000 a year for childcare? How can a senior citizen or a disabled veteran get by on $13,000 a year from Social Security?
What can be done about a political system in which the very rich are able to spend unlimited sums of money to elect candidates who represent their interests? Is that really what democracy is about? Why, in the year 2017, do we still have state governments trying to suppress the vote and make it harder for poor people, young people and people of color to participate in the political process?
Why is the richest country in the history of the world the only major country not to provide health care to all as a right, despite spending much more per capita? Why are we one of the very few countries on earth not to provide paid family and medical leave? With the five major drug companies making over $50 billion in profits last year, why do we end up paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs?
How do we succeed in a competitive global economy if we do not have the best educated workforce in the world? And how can we have that quality workforce if so many of our young people are unable to afford higher education or leave school deeply in debt? Not so many years ago, we had the highest percentage of college graduates in the world. Now we don’t even rank in the top ten. What can we do to make sure that every American, regardless of income, gets all of the education he or she needs?
Meanwhile, on climate change, the debate is over. The scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, is caused by human activity and is already doing devastating harm to our country and the entire world. How do we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy while protecting those workers who might lose their jobs as a result of the transition? This is no small issue. The future of the planet is at stake.
We are now spending $80 billion a year to imprison 2.2 million Americans, who are disproportionately African-American, Latino and Native American. We have more people in jail than any other country on earth, including China, which is home to four times as many people. How do we reform a broken criminal justice system? How do we create jobs and educational opportunity for young people, not more jails and incarceration?
We must create a path for the 11 million undocumented people in our country to become lawful permanent residents and eventually citizens. How can we move our nation toward common sense, humane and comprehensive immigration reform and by doing that help reverse the decline of our middle class and better prepare the United States to compete in the global economy?
Our nation’s infrastructure is collapsing and the American people know it. At a time when our roads, bridges, water systems, rail and airports, levees, dams, schools and housing stock are decaying, the most effective way to rapidly create meaningful jobs is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. How can we work together to make that happen?
These are the issues that need to be talked about all over the country. I thank CNN for allowing us to have a serious discussion about serious issues.