Ralph Nader: Isn’t Citizen Action Fun?

On September 8, Ralph Nader stopped by the wealthy Columbus, Ohio suburb of Bexley to discuss issues facing our nation and his candidacy for President of the United States of America.

This is an edited transcript of what was discussed after his speech given to a public event in which a couple hundred people attended. There was no mainstream news media there, but the event was covered by two local independent news organizations: The Columbus Free Press which organized his appearance and The Liberty Voice.

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Question: What would you do on foreign policy? John McCain claims he’s a really great guy to handle enemies…

Nader: None of these so-called enemies are on our tail. We’re in their back yard. They’re not in our back yard. As long as we’ve got bases and we’ve got missiles pointed at them, and we call them the ‘axis of evil’ and we invade them and bomb them–we’re going to have enemies.

It’s amazing they haven’t done more to us.

But we’ve exaggerated the threats. Like after 9/11 when Bush said, there are al Qaeda cells in the US and they’re well financed suicide agents. Well, how come they haven’t struck?

General Douglas Macarthur once said, “If government always exaggerates threats it gets more money and more power.” Of course Bush got a lot of power from at the expense of Congress and of course after 9/11.

Just take it one point at a time: Iraq had a dictator we helped install. He was our anti-communist dictator, then when he moved to Kuwait he became our dictator opposition.

But who kept him going? We sold him the materials for chemical and biological weapons. The department of Commerce licensed companies, and they did the same in Western Europe It’s a matter of public record. This was under Reagan and Bush I. It’s money. Business. Trade. At the time Saddam was on our side.

Iran? Iran is surrounded by the US military. We goaded Saddam to invade them. Gave logistical intelligence support–material support. Half a million Iranians died from that war. Think they forget that? We blew up one of their civilian airliners. 380 people. Think they forget that? We overthrew their Prime Minister in 1953 cause he was going to nationalize the oil resources of Iran and installed a 27-year dictatorship–the Shaw of Iran. Brutal. Think they forget that?

They haven’t invaded anybody in 250 years. They’ve got a GDP the size of Connecticut—a poor country. Now they talk belligerent because that’s all they got.

Suppose they create two or three nuclear weapons. What are they going to do? Commit suicide? Israel has 250 of them. They could blow up the Arab world in a weekend.

All of this is to just distract us—to keep the military machine going and military contracts going. They distract us from the problems we have back home, concentrate more power in the White House, and chill out the opposition–people are afraid to speak up post 9/11. And, by the way–make his company friends rich beyond belief. Halliburton–Cheney’s company and all those companies that put the money in which funded his re-election campaign 2004.

We have to start thinking independently, instead of the way the American Legion Leaders and VFW leaders “stand up.” Hey! Just because they are heads of the American Legion doesn’t mean they have to be stupid. Veterans for Peace? Now these guys think for themselves. WWII. Korea. Vietnam veterans. You go to their convention, and they really think for themselves. They want the facts. They analyze it. They aren’t going to be stampeded with someone waving the flag in front of it all.

We’ve got to make sure that we become a humanitarian super power. It’s cheaper. We’re the biggest arms exporter in the world to some of the most odious regimes in the world, but they cut deals with our corporations. And if we’re a humanitarian superpower against infectious diseases, clean water–we know all these things: agricultural co-ops and how to get more crops per yield, how to save more water in irrigation systems, how to deal with tuberculosis and malaria, how to deal with global warming, and how to be the leader in solar energy. We have so much to give! Instead, what are we showing the world? Napalm. Cluster bombs. F-16′s. Destroyers. That’s what we’re showing the world. We don’t run our country. We don’t run our country, it’s run for us.

I talk with a lot of vets coming back from Iraq, and in the only scientific poll conducted in the field in Iraq—72% of our troops in January 2006 said they want us out in 6-12 months–including 51% of the Marines.

And of course, look at what’s happened since. The corporations have discovered that the biggest pot of money they’ll ever have is your money…your tax dollar. What do these US corporations want from US government? Three things: contracts and grants; they want lax law enforcement; and they want free research and development transferred to them–like bio-tech, NASA, DOD and of course subsidies. Handouts. Give-aways.

You look at Washington today–half of what they do is shoveling out contracts, subsidies, grants, licenses, permits to cut US force for a couple bucks a troop. Remember half of the Government expenditures is for the military. The head of the Air Force, three of four years ago, General John McPhee said, “If we can’t defend the United States of America on 3 trillion a year, we better get a new set of generals.”

If we’re going to spend, we should spend on public works–where you get a real return on the money. Our economy wouldn’t be anywhere near what is is today if it wasn’t for public works. The damns, the canals, the bridges, schools, clinics. Everything under the city streets–the pipelines, sewage systems. Our infrastructure is deteriorating badly, and now they are selling it off to Australian and Spanish companies. Like in a few days the Pennsylvania legislature is going to decide whether to lease for 99 years the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Because the government wants the 3 billion dollars now so it can look good. So it gives this asset away for 99 years? Watch the tolls go up and up and up and up. I mean all the things we’ve paid for—we paid for the turnpike–are in effect being sold off. A 99 year lease! you might as well assume it to say it’s being sold off, but we’re fighting that. We going right up the PA turnpike with a big sign as we campaign. We have a chance to defeat it, but imagine how brazen they are. Midway Airport is up for a lease. All these politicians want a little up-front money, and then they give it away for 99 years. It’s like the old colonial model—like leasing Hong Kong for 99 years of British gunboats. Only this time, we’re the colonists.

Question: Do you believe global warming is man-made and how would you solve it?

Global warming. It’s not entirely man-made but heavily man-made, and what you do is you convert to solar. An d you burn less fossils by having more efficient automobiles and all that. That’s about all we can do unless we find something else. Science can do it. So it’s very real. You go to Alaska, and the tundra is melting. The tourist industry goes nuts.

The Andes–the glaciers are shrinking rapidly. Greenland is the most frightening of all. Because when the Greenland ice sheet falls it will have a real impact.

Question: On population control?

Jury’s out and contrary to predictions in the last 20 years, there has been a real sharp decline in the third world in population growth. In Europe, population growth isn’t even flat. They can’t even repopulate themselves. Italy for example, is going to be half of its current population in 50 years.

The effect on social structures all depends on technology. Give me a 100 million people on solar energy and its better than 50 million people without solar–for example. Or public transit. However, it is remarkable how population growth is slowing down. It’s going down in India and China. Part of it is they see television and the birth control is more widespread. Part of it is famine and disease that still curtails the population, but there is a correlation–as standards of living go up, population goes down.

In Russia, now it’s a real crisis. They’re going to start giving bonuses now for parents who produce children. I have never liked government telling women that they have to have children, or they didn’t have to have children. China aborted huge numbers of pregnancies, and in Romania forced women to have more children because they wanted to grow the population under the dictatorship. I don’t think government should do either. It’s proceeding, rather amazingly in the past 20-30 years and they pretty much know the reasons, but they didn’t think it would happen that fast. Everybody knew modern television, modern health care, contraception and so on that it would happen. But they didn’t think that it would be that fast.

Do you ave anything that you would like to tell younger evangelical voters?

Yeah, roll up your sleeves and put the Golden Rule in practice.

(applause)

And when you finish doing that, call me up and I’ll give you more scripture.

(laughter)

Question: On Corporate welfare?:

This is what they call the race to the bottom–where states and municipalities fall all over themselves trying to give tax abatements and other breaks to companies to either stay where they are–to not move, or to come to where the jurisdiction is. Studies show that a lot of this extortion–that is, the company will decide where to put its plant or where to keep its plant based one location, transportation and available labor, and the abatements are just sort of like gravy.

When GM dangled the Saturn plant in front of the governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan, they fell all over themselves giving them the score to get the Saturn plant. They were going on the Phil Donahue show to bid against one another. No one thought that the Saturn plant would go to Tennessee, but it went to Tennessee. Tennessee wasn’t even on the Donahue show. Because of transportation, land and available labor–cheap labor, rural Tennessee labor. Hardworking labor that wouldn’t be prone to forming a UAW to challenge them. I don’t know all the details of this, but I know what they’ve been doing for sports teams.

It’s not good to expenditure money to begin with, but the way to prevent it is to have an inter-state compact where the states protect themselves from being subjected to these bids. If you’re aligned through an inter-state compact or a federal law that would protect these jurisdictions–sometimes you can feel a lot of pressure especially if you have a company with jobs. Like in Toledo, they said they were going to loose their Jeep plant. The company said, “We could go to Michigan you know, depending on what you will give us.“ And Toledo gave them a lot to keep that Jeep plant there, but if you have an interstate compact that prevents that kind of thing.

There are entire consulting firms and strategies who show companies how to twist and turn mayors and governors to distract them. It’s so bad.

You’ll be amused by this: The citadel of capitalism–the New York Stock Exchange before automation really kicked in–they wanted to build a new headquarters right across the street, and the NYSE said if the city didn’t give them several hundred million dollars they were possibly going to move across the Hudson river. Yeah, that’s right, the New York Stock Exchange goes to Hoboken, right? And the city agreed! They didn’t quite finish the deal when all this automation came in and they shrunk the space that was necessary in electronic trade. Can you imagine the gall? Here’s the citadel of capitalism, demanding welfare from the City of New York and the State of New York! While the schools are crumbling, the subways need repair, and we don’t have enough clinics.

Do you see the greed?

The synonym for greed? Infinity! There’s no limit to corporate greed. And when you combine corporate greed and power? There’s no limit. They get slaves–sweat shops overseas or dark streets in New York City where they get these poor Chinese and other people who are working for a buck or two an hour–60-70 hours a week. Los Angeles sweat shops too! It’s like slavery. And there is no end to it unless we subject it to the rule of law, and subject it to political control.

Question: It appears the nuclear power industry is attempting to get a massive subsidy package through legislation…

Nader: This is corporate subsidy-auto. You know the auto companies are about to get about a 50 billion dollar essential loan guarantee to build plants to build produce fuel efficient cars–all this after 30 years of opposition to improve fuel efficiency standards.

See how they get you going and coming? You pay billions of dollars for gas guzzlers, then the price went up for gasoline, and their sales went down. And now they say, “Oh! Uncle Sam!” You the taxpayer, you have to pay to bail us out so we can build new factories to keep up with the Japanese and the Koreans and the Europeans– none of whose CEOs are paid anywhere near what the CEOs of Ford GM and Chrysler are. You get the highest paid CEOs for the worst performance. Go figure.

The nuclear industry wanted 50 billion dollars in loan guarantees because not a single nuclear plant can be built in this country and be financed privately without a 100% taxpayer guarantee from Washington. Who says that? The Nuclear industry itself. We just picketed them in Washington a few weeks ago with signs about that.

And so what kind of industry is it that is so risky, so costly, so unpredictable, that it can’t achieve financing and can’t produce a nuclear plant unless you the taxpayer provide 100% loan guarantee? Wall Street won’t loan it to them without–not a 90%–but a 100% loan guarantee. Did they get $50 billion? Well they got something in 2005 that almost no one but Harvey Wasserman knew about. They got about $19 billion. Well, that will build maybe two–two nuclear plants. For heaven’s sake, if you’re going to have loan guarantees–build solar plants!

(Applause)

And now solar plants don’t even need a loan guarantee! They are being privately financed and are burgeoning in California! So when you hear John McCain and Barack Obama say we need all kinds of energy–we need oil–to drill it; we need gas; we need coal—clean coal they say.

(Laughter)

We need solar. We need conservation…hey, it’s a smörgåsbord! We need diverse nutrition–a little nuclear here, a little coal there!

(Laughter)

The key is–what is the best, fastest, cheapest, most environmentally and workplace-safe form of energy? That is saving energy. A barrel of oil you don’t waste is a barrel of oil you don’t have to produce because you have more fuel efficient cars. And solar–all kinds: wood powered, solar-thermal, solar architecture–stuff that’s been around for 2000 years. You think solar is new?

The wind mills? How many hundreds of years have Dutch used windmills? Passive solar architecture? Ancient Persians, East Africans, and ancient Greeks used that. The only thing is, the fossil fuel industry doesn’t like the sun. Because they can’t embargo it, they can’t carbon-tax it, and they can’t eclipse it. And YOU can use the sun. Coal, oil, gas are highly centralized, very expensive capital expenditures. Who’s going to be able to own and operate them? A few big companies. So it isn’t that the technology isn’t ready to go. It’s that technology will displace the sales and eventually replace the fossil fuel industry, and they’ll fight to the end to stop that. And right now, they’re more powerful than Washington.

As far as the pending nuclear legislation, there’s got to be something that says, “No more!” Block the 19 billion dollar loan guarantee. I think what we have to do is what we did in the 70s. How about a big, critical-mass workshop in Washington. You up for it? You see, it actually helped stop nuclear power in the 70s. We had a thousand people in twice and taught them how to stop nuclear power in their communities, and they became the leaders of their communities.

Isn’t citizen action fun?

(Applause)

Question: On Obama’s candidacy:

Nader: His voting is a matter of record. He voted for the credit card industry, voted for every military appropriation, voted every war appropriation–except for the last one when he and Hillary were competing, so he didn’t vote for the last one. He has raised more corporate money than McCain by a large margin. He’s raised more corporate lawyer money than John McCain. He’s split now on off-shore drilling. I don’t see him standing up for the small farmer. He’s catered to agri-business. He’s never met a weapons system he doesn’t like. He’s got a very mediocre record.

If you look at his agenda on his website, his idea of a living wage is $9.50 an hour by the year 2011. That means that by the year 2011, the minimum wage will have less in purchasing power than it was in 1968. He has no program against all the corporate crime that is ripping off consumers–even in Austin TX.

Question: What is it going to take to get you on the debate platform. Is it still a possibility? Is there anything anybody can do here today?

You can do something right here in Ohio which I would recommend. This is a swing state. They’re going to be here five times probably—Obama and McCain. You get together the leading civic and labor union groups and veterans—get everyone involved, League of Women Voters, NAACP, trade unions–representing millions of people, and you invite the candidates in for a nationally televised debate, and on that date will be the five presidential candidates who have enough states to win the electoral college. If you do that, they’re going to have to say, we may loose this election in Ohio–the whole thing. You know when the last time that happened? Four years ago.

(Laughter)

So you have far more power than Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, California and New York combined, cause they are all either Republican or Democrat. You get them here, and if they don’t come, have the empty chairs and you have the other three debate. I don’t think they are going to be able to say no.

I don’t think they are going to be able to say no, because you’re in the cockpit. You’re in the captain’s seat. I can say this till the moon dries up, and these groups will not do it. This is how totally disorganized we are as a citizenry. Is there anyone who can stop all these groups from getting together, from laying out the strategy, getting the letterhead, having a news conference, saying they represent millions of Ohioans here–many of them in severe stress: unemployment, recession, wounded veterans not being treated. I mean, try all those symbols and invite them.

Now I think what would happen is this: McCain will say yes, and if McCain says yes and you have all these groups saying we want both of you and the three others. Obama is going to be in a real tight spot, and my prediction is he would say yes. Once you got them on the stage, to hell with the debate commission. All the national media will be here. Are you going to make it happen?

You wanna make it happen?

(Applause!)

Thank you.

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