Ralph Nader takes on cor­po­ra­tions, lob­by­ists, Con­gress … still

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - Chen Weihua WASH­ING­TON JOUR­NAL Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa. com.

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.

CHEN WEIHUA/CHINA DAILY

Ralph Nader speaks in Wash­ing­ton on Oct 1.

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