Parkland students interview Bernie Sanders: ‘Your generation has the power to change America’

Two student journalists from the Eagle Eye, Stoneman Douglas high schools newspaper, interviewed the Vermont senator about the search for a breakthrough in the gun debate and his own voting record

We are a part of the Eagle Eye newspaper at Stoneman Douglas. We just wanted to ask a couple of questions. So first, has the Parkland shooting affected your opinion on how gun laws should be handled federally?

Bernie Sanders I wouldnt say it affected my opinion other than it made the entire country start focusing on an issue, which previously did not get the attention that it deserved. And I think, you might ask, Why Parkland? Why not Las Vegas, the terrible tragedy we had in Las Vegas or other shootings? I dont know why. But somehow or another, maybe because of the response of the students, or maybe because the American people finally had enough, the consensus was [it was] the straw that broke the camels back, and people looked around and said, What is going on in America? We have got to do something. Saying that in a way that we have not seen for a long, long time. I think people are saying, I am saying, many members of Congress are saying, We have got to do something. Weve got to do it now. Kids have got to be safe in school and we cannot allow people just to be shot down with military weapons.


Your home state of Vermont is one of the most gun-friendly states in the nation, yet has one of the lowest gun violence crime rates. Why do you think that is?

In states like Vermont, which are very, very rural states, people hunt, people do target practice, people go to gun shows. Guns are a way of life and people take that very seriously, and they treat guns with a lot of respect. That is something very different in other parts of the country, where guns are used by people who are criminals, who are into drug dealing and so forth and so on. But I would also say, maybe Im wrong on this but I think Im right, that in Vermont the vast majority of people, including gun owners, understand that we need what I call commonsense gun legislation.

People say, Oh, the American people are divided on the issue of guns. Well, you know what, by and large the American people are not divided. It is this Republican Congress that is controlled by the NRA [National Rifle Association] that is the problem. If you go out, and you look at the polling, and youll say to the American people, Do you think we should improve and expand background checks? You know what the American people say overwhelmingly, what gun owners say overwhelmingly? Of course.

The majority of the American people say, This is pretty crazy. Lets deal with it. Increasingly, something that Ive felt strongly about for 30 years, people also understand that military-style assault weapons should not be sold in this country and distributed. More and more people believe that. But not quite as many as believe the other thing. So I think what Parkland was about is the straw that broke the camels back. That people want action right now. That people are prepared to stand up to the NRA. I want to say that you, you guys, in the high school deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping bring about that change of attitude.

In the past couple of years weve seen a lot of grassroots movements, like the #MeToo movement, and Black Lives Matter and now the Never Again movement. What do you feel is the importance of these kinds of grassroots movements on changing policy?

Extraordinarily important. Thats how change takes place. Ive said it a million times in every speech that I give. Change never takes place from the top. It always comes from the bottom on up. So right now, when you have large numbers of young people all across this country who are saying to the leaders of this country, When we go to school we want to feel safe, that will have an impact, absolutely, to my mind.

So what do you think of the importance of students and young people getting involved in politics?

How many hours do you have here? I think it is enormous. I think you are the future of this country. And I think, one of the things There are two truths here and that is young people in general, not just high school students but younger people in general, dont know their political strength. They dont know their political strength. They can turn this country around.

I was just on the floor today dealing with another issue, dealing with Yemen. And the point that I talked about [was] the Vietnam war. That war was finally stopped. You know how it was stopped? Not by people here, but by people on the streets, mostly young people. It was stopped because kids 18 and 19 were saying, I dont want to go to Vietnam and get killed or kill people. This war does not make sense. So I think that the future of this country is in the hands of young people. You have to understand your power, youve got to be involved politically. And I very much hope that thats what your generation does.

So in 2006 you were awarded a C- rating from the NRA. What prompted that raise in rating?

I have no idea. I have a D- lifetime average. The NRA is very arbitrary. In fact, if Im not mistaken, I wont swear to you on this, you and you could cast exactly the same votes and you get a different rating. It is extremely arbitrary.

Bernie Sanders is interviewed by students of the Eagle Eye newspaper. Photograph: Amana Fontanella-Khan for the Guardian

Do you think that the NRA has the kind of hold on Congress the media portrays?

It has a very significant hold. I think that hold may be breaking a little bit.

I think what the NRA can do, like any other powerful interest, whether its Wall Street or the pharmaceutical industry, if you vote the wrong way, they will primary you theyll run a candidate against you in the primary and they will spend a lot of money against you. And they have a lot of power, they have a lot of members. They intimidate a whole lot of members here [in Congress].

Youre seeing that power in the sense that the American people want serious gun safety legislation. Were not seeing that on the floor. Why is that? Are they doing what 80% of the American people want? No. Theyre doing what the NRA wants.

And youre seeing the president who one day, as is usually the case with him, on a Monday he says one thing and on a Wednesday he says something completely different. But that has to do with the power of the NRA.

Do you think federal emphasis should lie in mental healthcare laws or gun control laws?

Both. Heres the problem and this is a sad truth. And I indicated to you some of what I think has to be done in terms of expanding background checks, doing away with the gun show loophole, doing away with the so-called straw man provision, banning the sale and distribution of assault weapons, doing other things as well. Thats the gun safety part. But lets be very clear, sad to say, this is not anything we should be happy about, but in this country today there are many thousands of people who are walking the streets as we speak who are suicidal and homicidal.

So its not either/or. What the people who are dominated by the NRA are saying, Oh its just a mental health problem. Well, theres truth to that. But its not just a mental health problem. It is also a gun issue and we have to deal with that as well.

Why did you, though it was 1993 vote against the Brady bill, that would have introduced a lot of gun control measures to reform issues, including background checks and waiting periods?

Well, there was a debate at that time. It was a long long time ago, between what is now understood to be the case and that is kind of automatic background checks as opposed to a waiting time. And the people in my state preferred the automatic background checks rather than the waiting time. I think thats the reason. Yes.

So would you say, though, over your tenure as a senator and as a representative of your state, that there have been things that have influenced your ideas of supporting those universal background checks and supporting longer waiting periods and things like that in regards to gun reform?

Well, again, I come from a state, as you indicated, which has no gun control legislation. And 30 years ago, as it happens, I may have lost an election. I lost an election by three points and running against a Democrat and a Republican who both opposed the ban on assault weapons, and I supported that ban. That cost me the election mainly. But that was 30 years ago. Not everybody was talking about that at that point. I think that Thats all. I voted the way I did and I gave you the reason why. And I also voted to ban assault weapons, and I think my own view, now and for many years, has been that we can bring people together.

For example, on the banning of assault weapons, there are real differences of opinion in this country. But on many other things, there is overwhelming support and we should do that. And we can do that right away.

Do you think that its likely that Congress will pass any kind of legislation soon and what obstacles do you think are in place to prevent that?

I think it is 100% dependent upon grassroots activism. So, if youre an average politician and somebody says, well 80% of the people in your state want to do something, you would think that you would do it, right? Its pretty good politics. And thats the case. On the other hand, what they are weighing is the power of the NRA. And if we can create, and I know the marches have got to be part of that, if we can create a strong grassroots movement and real pressure, yeah, I think we will. If not, we wont. The NRA is very powerful.

Its also about creating a united front of a bipartisan agreement that we all want this to happen never again?

We all do. Theres no one there whos going to tell you that theyre not outraged by school shootings. But I really do think it comes down to the power of a very powerful interest, this is the NRA. And whether, in this case, mostly Republicans, will have the courage to stand up to them. And some will. But the job of, I think, grassroots America is to make sure that we have a majority of people [in Congress]. Were close to that. We are very close to that. It can be done. Its going to take a lot of grassroots activism to do it.

Do you think President Trump has the courage to take on the NRA?

No. President Trump lies all the time and he will come up with some ideas that may sound good. In fact, he had a televised meeting with some members of Congress and said all the things he wanted to do and two days later he backed away from it. No, I think he sees the NRA as very important to his re-election effort. And I do not think he has the courage to stand up to them.

This interview was edited for clarity and length

Read more:

Get Rid of Capitalism? Millennials Are Ready to Talk About It

One of the hottest tickets in New York City this weekend was a discussion on whether to overthrow capitalism.

The first run of tickets to “Capitalism: A Debate” sold out in a day. So the organizers, a pair of magazines with clear ideological affiliations, socialist and libertarian , found a larger venue: Cooper Union’s 960-capacity Great Hall, the site of an 1860 antislavery speech by Abraham Lincoln. The event sold out once again, this time in eight hours.

The crowd waiting in a long line to get inside on Friday night was mostly young and mostly male. Asher Kaplan and Gabriel Gutierrez, both 24, hoped the event would be a real-life version of the humorous, anarchic political debates on social media. “So much of this stuff is a battle that’s waged online,” said Gutierrez, who identifies, along with Kaplan, as a “leftist,” if not quite a socialist.

These days, among young people, socialism is “both a political identity and a culture,” Kaplan said. And it looks increasingly attractive.

Young Americans have soured on capitalism. In a Harvard University poll conducted last year, 51 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds in the U.S. said they opposed capitalism; only 42 percent expressed support. Among Americans of all ages, by contrast, a Gallup survey last year found that 60 percent held positive views of capitalism.

A poll released last month found American millennials closely split on the question of what type of society they would prefer to live in: 44 percent picked a socialist country, 42 percent a capitalist one. The poll, conducted by YouGov and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, found that 59 percent of Americans across all age groups preferred to live under capitalism.

“I’ve seen the failings of modern-day capitalism,” said Grayson SussmanSquires, an 18-year-old student at Wesleyan University who had turned up for the capitalism debate. To him and many of his peers, he said, the notion of well-functioning capitalist order is something recounted only by older people. He was 10 when the financial crisis hit, old to enough to watch his older siblings struggle to get jobs out of college. In high school, SussmanSquires said, he volunteered for the presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist. “It spoke to me in a way nothing had before,” he said.

Although debate attendees leaned left, several expressed the desire to have their views challenged by the pro-capitalist side. “It’s very easy to exist in a social group where everyone has the same political vibe,” Kaplan said.

“I’m immersed in one side of the debate,” said Thomas Doscher, 26, a labor organizer who is studying for his LSATs. “I want to hear the other side.”

The debate pitted two socialist stalwarts, Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara and New York University professor Vivek Chibber, against the defenders of capitalism, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason’s editor in chief, and Nick Gillespie, the editor in chief of and Reason TV.

And it was the attempt to rebuff criticism of capitalism that mostly riled up the crowd.

Chibber argued that the problem with capitalism is the power it has over workers. With the weakening of U.S. labor unions, “we have a complete despotism of the employers,” he said, leading to stagnant wages. When Mangu-Ward countered that Americans aren’t coerced on the job, the crowd erupted in laughter. “Every morning you wake up and you have a decision about whether or not you’re going to go to work,” she insisted, and the audience laughed again.

Sunkara summed up his argument for socialism as a society that helped people tackle the necessities of life—food, housing, education, health care, childcare. “Wherever we end up, it won’t be a utopia,” he said. “It will still be a place where you might get your heart broken,” or feel lonely, or get indigestion.

Mangu-Ward replied: “Capitalism kind of [fixes] those things, actually.” There’s the app Tinder to find dates, and Pepto Bismol to cure your upset stomach. “Those are the gifts of capitalism,” she said.

The arguments stayed mostly abstract. Sunkara and Chibber insisted their idea of democratic socialism shouldn’t be confused with the communist dictatorships that killed millions of people in the 20th century. Mangu-Ward and Gillespie likewise insisted on defending a capitalist ideal, not the current, corrupt reality. “Neither Nick nor I are fans of big business,” she said. “We’re not fans of crony capitalism.”

Talking theory left little time to wrestle with concrete problems, such as inequality or climate change. That frustrated Nathaniel Granor, a 31-year-old from Brooklyn who said he was worried about millions of people being put out of work by automation such as driverless vehicles.

“It didn't touch on what I feel is the heart of the matter,” Granor said. Both capitalism and socialism might ideally be ways to improve the world, he concluded, but both can fall short when applied in the real world. 

    Read more:

    Bernie Sanders observes Independence Day weekend by celebrating government dependence

    It’s difficult to know what to do with Bernie Sanders sometimes. He’s not a Democrat, and yet he has a devoted following among them. He was the featured attraction of the so-called 2017 “unity tour” with new DNC chair Tom Perez and took the opportunity to bash Democrats for their failing policies and inability to win elections. Add to that he’s a democratic socialist who has three houses and was endorsed by the president of oil-rich Venezuela, where the government is opening fire on rioters protesting food shortages.

    One thing of which there’s never a shortage is Sanders spouting cliches about the rich and the poor; if only we could tax him on every tweet completely lacking in self-awareness.

    Read more:

    $35,000 a plate: Donald Trump starts fundraising for 2020 re-election

    Reporters barred from hearing presidents remarks at fundraiser held in Trumps Washington hotel

    President Donald Trump was whisked a few blocks from the White House to his hotel on Wednesday night for his first re-election fundraiser. But reporters were barred from hearing his remarks.

    Security was tight at the Trump International Hotel, where guests in long gowns and sharp suits started arriving around five.

    The presidents motorcade was greeted by protesters outside hoisting signs with slogans such as Health care not tax cuts and chanting Shame! Shame!

    First-time candidate Donald Trump got a late start on fundraising in 2016, holding his first big-ticket donor event only five months before Election Day.

    Forty months before his next election, the president holds court at a $35,000 a plate donor event Wednesday night at his hotel in Washington. About 300 people are expected to attend an event that will pull in about $10 million, said Lindsay Jancek, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

    Breaking the tradition of his predecessor, Trump is not allowing reporters to hear his remarks to the group of donors despite an announcement earlier in the day that a pool of reporters would be allowed in to hear the presidents remarks.

    Its a political event and theyve chosen to keep that separate, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked why the event is closed to the media.

    After reporters complained, Sanders announced the presidents remarks would be opened to the press only to reverse herself hours later.

    Unfortunately there was some confusion with the RNC, and due to the logistical challenges bringing in the press at this late moment is not going to be possible, she said in an email.

    Sanders also said there was nothing unusual about raising political cash so early.
    Hes raising money for the party, she said. I dont think thats abnormal for any president.

    Sanders statement that Trump is raising cash for the GOP tells only part of the story, though.

    The first cut of the money raised goes to Trumps 2020 re-election campaign. The rest gets spread among the RNC and other various Republican entities. Having multiple beneficiaries is what allows Trump to ask for well above the usual $5,400 per-donor maximum for each election cycle.

    Those contribution limits are likely to change because this fundraiser is so early that new donation limits for 2020 have not been set by the Federal Election Commission.

    Trumps historically early campaigning comes with benefits and challenges.
    In the first three months of this year, the Trump campaign raised more than $7 million, through small donations and the sale of Trump-themed merchandise such as the ubiquitous, Make America Great Again ball caps.

    The RNC also is benefiting from the new presidents active campaigning, having raised about $62 million through the end of last month. The party has raised more online this year than it did in all of 2016.

    Trumps re-election money helps pay for his political rallies. He has held five so far, and campaign director Michael Glassner says those events help keep him connected to his base of voters.

    The constant politicking, however, means it is challenging for government employees to avoid inappropriately crossing ethical lines. Some watchdog groups have flagged White House employee tweets that veer into campaign territory. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says the employees work closely with lawyers to avoid pitfalls.

    Read more:

    Bernie Sanders: Trump was right, Australian healthcare is better

    Sanders also says Senate should use Australian system as model while crafting an alternative to Republicans replacement for Obamacare

    Bernie Sanders has declared President Donald Trump was right to say Australia has better healthcare than the US.

    Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, said the US Senate should use the Australian system as a model while crafting an alternative to the Republican healthcare legislation that Trump endorses.

    President Trump is right. The Australian healthcare system provides healthcare to all of its people at a fraction of the cost than we do, Sanders commented on Twitter.

    The tweet was accompanied by a short video that set out the virtues of Australias universal healthcare system, saying it guarantees better service to all Australians at about half the cost of US healthcare. The video also notes that Australians can expect to live longer than Americans on average.

    Sanderss tweet came two days after Trump told the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Trumbull in New York: You have better healthcare than we do.

    The presidents comment raised eyebrows, coming just after the US House of Representatives had approved a Trump-backed bill that would overturn much of former President Barack Obamas signature healthcare law and move the US system further away from universal coverage.

    The White House later said Trump was simply being nice to an ally and did not think the United States should adopt Australias healthcare approach.

    The healthcare legislation that Trump endorses would pare back insurance protections for the sick and, according to nonpartisan congressional researchers, would lead to 24 million more Americans being without health coverage by 2026.
    But the bills approval in the House on Thursday sent the legislation to the Senate, where it has little support.

    We will take this pathetic healthcare bill, throw it in the garbage can and do something that will work for ordinary Americans instead, Sanders said in a second tweet on Saturday.

    A Vermont independent, Sanders has become more influential in the Senate since 2016, when he took his long-shot presidential bid and turned it into a political movement against inequality.

    Read more: