Ralph Nader takes on corporations, lobbyists, Congress … still
I’ve watched and heard Ralph Nader speak on TV and radio many times, but Saturday was the first time I’ve seen him in person. The 82-year-old political activist — and one of the most noted perennial thirdparty presidential candidates — was talking about his latest book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, in front of a packed audience at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington.
In his book, Nader calls on the American people to engage in civic action to help fix the ills of society, rather than giving it up to powerful corporations, which are not just influencing, but controlling the government and Congress.
He believes the US’ democracy is already a mixture of plutocracy and oligarchy. In his view, it would only take less that 1 percent of American citizens, about 2.5 million adults, to bring change about by volunteering hundreds of hours a year, citing various major changes in US history.
That’s because the 1 percent has the majority opinion behind them, he explained.
Nader sighed at the fact that there are actually 5 million serious bird watchers in the US, people who get up at dawn with binoculars and connect with each other.
“Is there a hobby known as congressional watchdogging?” he asked.
For Nader, voting should be the duty of every American just like in Australia, where voter turnout is more than 90 percent, in contrast to the level in the US, which hovers around 50 percent. He clearly dislikes both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Nader warned the audience that the military-industrial complex never has to have rallies on the streets demanding more nuclear submarines or F-35s. Instead they engage in lobbying congressional staffs. The lobbyists, or the K Street, groups like the National Rifle Association are laser-focused on the 535 lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to Nader.
Nader’s arguments make a lot of sense in light of numerous research reports from Washington think tanks. For example, a Sept 30 report titled America’s Awesome Military by Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon and retired general David Petraeus continued to argue for more investment to beef up the US military, regardless of the fact that US defense spending is almost three times as large as that of its closest competitor (China) and accounts for about a third of all global military expenditures, with another third coming from US allies and partners, facts the authors freely acknowledge in the report.
Or a Sept 28 report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Chinese military spending in which the China military threat is played up to justify the monstrous military spending by the US.
Nader described the US pivot to Asia, as championed by President Barack Obama, as a stimulus to spur an arms race with China.
In his book, Nader repeatedly cites President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex, saying it was actually the “military-industrial-congressional complex” in Eisenhower’s original draft.
The consumer rights advocate warned against the excesses of corporate power and control. “In a plutocracy, commercialism dominates far beyond the realm of economics and business; everything is for sale, and money is power,” Nader writes in his book.
He said corporations are legally persons under the law, with rights and powers that far exceed those of average individuals, quoting MIT scholar Noam Chomsky saying that “corporate campaign contributions are a major factor in determining the outcome of elections”.
Nader is deeply upset with the airwaves, which he said are public property but are now used purely for commercial entertainment.
“There is no channel for labor, no channel for civic action, no channel for consumers, no channel for patients, no cable channel for students, and yet we are licensing these companies to give them monopolies. What are we getting in return?” he asked the audience.
He warned about the public’s apathy toward many of the problems perpetuated by corporations. “Our country has more problems than it should tolerate, and more solutions than it uses,” he wrote.
In his book, Nader also provides a to-do list for readers, everything from reverting airtime to the people to reining in Wall Street.
Ralph Nader speaks in Washington on Oct 1.