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tv   Ralph Nader 17 Solutions for America  LINKTV  February 28, 2016 3:45am-5:01am PST

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>> thank you very much. thank you. thank you. [applause wanes] thank you very much... and thank the commonwealth club and everybody here who has come to listen to a different kind of message. and the message starts out, "it's a lot easier than we think to turn our country around" and a whole series of long-overdue redirections that are supported by a majority of the american people now and that will raise the promise and the morale of the american people
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who are extremely demoralized and discouraged about the future. they feel themselves helpless. they feel they're powerless. they're cynical about politicians, which, of course, just strengthens politicians' vulnerability to powerful corporate and other lobbyists in washington, d.c. when i lost a lot of friends in traffic accidents as a young man, i looked into how they could have been saved. and they could have been saved by seatbelts and they could have been saved by a whole series of engineering devices that we now take for granted in our cars: collapsing steering columns, better brakes, better tires, head restraints, padded dash panels. all of these and more were developed by engineers a long, long time ago, but they weren't applied because the companies, as some--those of you who are a little older remember the companies were selling style
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and horsepower. they weren't selling engineering integrity, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and millions were injured in ways that today's cars--which could have been yesterday's cars--could have prevented. now, when i went to washington, i was hitchhiking to washington to try to get congress interesd in holding hearings, and it never occurred to me that i could not take on general motors and defeat them because i believed i had the facts. they were certainly understandable by people; everybody drove, everybody knew friends or relatives who were killed or injured. and everybody knew that american ingenuity was pretty good, that they didn't have to build psychosexual dreamboats that could kill you in a 10- or 15-mile-an-hour collision because your head would hit sharp edges on the dash panel
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with lethal impact. and i remember i was hitchhiking once and a truck driver picked me up right outside delaware, and he id, "whe are u goin" and i said, "i'm going to washington to go see some members of congress." and he said, "what for?" i said, "because i want to federally regulate the auto companies so they have to meet safety standards." i thought he was going to let me out on the road right then and there. [scattered chuckling] but, you see, i never exaggerated the power of these corporations because, if you exaggerate their power--and they are powerful and they know exactly what they want. they want to control the environment of their business activities so that they can make more money and get more bonuses and, perhaps, give more dividends toheir shareholders, and they do that in a very strategic way to this day.
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they strategically want to control the environment that they operate in. if the government's part of the environment, they want to p their officials in high positions in government. they want to contribute campaign money to members of congress. and if consumers are a potential drag, then they want to have more exciting, emotional advertisements and try to get them to buy their rs. and the labor is considered an obstacle, well, they'll try to make their influence known ther and if they don't want to paa certailevel of taxes, they will shape and strategically plan the tax. and if they want to have members of congress who are receptive to them, they will enter through their executives and political action committees, the campaign cash that is needed. and if they want the engineering schools in our country not to be too curious about why automotive engineering was never risen to
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the level of a ph.d.--it was all civil or mechanical--and if they didn't want m.i.t. or caltech to research the lack of safety engineering design in cars, well, they just give a lot of money to m.i.t. or caltech. and i saw that personally when i was trying to get engineering help for my work on "unsafe at any speed." but i never exaggerated their power because i had a very, very realistic view of the power of people. and i realize that corporations, for all their power, they don't have a single vote, and that what members of congress wanted were votes. and so people became alert and they began to realize that it wasn't always the nut behind the wheel in crashes and injuries on the highway, that the engineering systems of highways and vehicles were very
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critical in minimizing crashes and, if they occurred, minimizing their injuries, such as a seatbelt, then the public interest would prevail. now, that served me pretty well because i had my feet on the ground and i knew i had a lot of work to do. i had to get the technical community behind what we were doing, i had to get it out to the media, i had to have contacts with senators and representatives who remembered where they came from and had a pro bono publico in their mind, and i had to have some contacts with the white house. all that happened, and we got more done in 10 years on the consumer, environmental, and worker safety front, under freedom of information front, on support for science and technology for the people, in terms of pushing for more benign forms of energy, pushing for
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detection instrumentation to detect coal-dust levels in mines, for example, pushing for safer automotive technologies, aviation technologies. and in doing that, i thought we were going to really go to the next level. and what was the next level? the next level was to have full health insurance for everybody; nobody out, everybody in, with free choice of doctor and hospital. that would have saved about a million american lives in the last 20 years. where do i get that? the harvard medical school study showed-- and this is a peer-reviewed study in the "journal of american public health," december 2009--that because people could not afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time, 45,000
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americans die every year, 800 a week. completely preventable. nobody dies in canada or japan or taiwan or germany or england or sweden because they don't have health insurance. that could have been accomplished by a democratic party as good today as it was in the 1960s--wasn't that great, but by comparison, it was much better--and a republican party that had some liberal elements in it in 1960 compared to today's draconian conglomeration of political ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, and cruelty in congress. [applause] so... i can footnote all this if we had time.
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[laughter] now, the first thing we have to ask ourselves is, can 1% of the american people--one out of a hundred; let's say 3 million people--organized back home where you are, and congress watchdog groups steer congress along the whole line of redirections that a majority of the people support? a majority of the people support full medicare for all, including a ajority doctorsnd nurse a majoty of pele suppo ising thminimum ge to vels of 68, adjued for inflation. it would be $10 now an hour; it's, federal, $7.25; a little higher here in california. a majority of people want law and order against corporate crime, fraud, and abuse, whether it's wall street-style or houston-style.
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a majority of people want a tax system that does not provide perverse incentives, horrendous complexity, waste of our time; a tax system that starts with the principle that we should tax first, before we tax labor, that which society likes the least or dislikes the most. so we should first tax pollution. even exxon prefers a carbon tax. we should tax speculation on wall street, which has reached horrendously frantic levels, and computer-driven derivatives-- $700 trillion last year. trillion dollars last year. and there's no sales tax. here in california, what do you do? you go buy furniture, clothes, you pay what, 7? >> 9. >> 8% sales tax? tomorrow, somebody can buy a hundred million dollars of intel derivatives and pay not a cent. that's not fair. we had a transaction tax in this country
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in 1905, and it was in the thirties under roosevelt. and then, for a variety of reasons, it was phased out. but do we really want that kind of speculation? no. so one way you do it's to tax it. at one half of 1%--and other countries are thinking about this, too, and japan already has one, small one. one half of 1% will bring in $300 billion. isn't that preferable to taxing work? or you should tax corporate crime more. we should tax addictive products more. things that we don't like, we should tax before we tax labor, things that we presumably like, which is work. a majority of the people don't believe in unconstitutional wars against countries that don't threaten us. and 7... [applause] 70% of the american people,
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even though the propaganda is on the other side, and we don't have an opposition party that is on the side of 70% of the american people, want out of afghanistan yesterday. even though both parties were complicit, but mostly the republans, in vading iq undebush-chey on a ptform ofalsehoo, deceptns, and cover-ups which are now a part of american history, incontrovertible, half of the country was against it just on their own intuition, their own "what are we doing? iraq doesn't threaten us. it's run by a frightened dictator surunded by a dilidated my who supported to invade iran years ago and who was our ally because he was anti-communist, and we'd give him lists of suspected communists, who he slaughtered. he was surrounded by much more powerful neighbors. why are we invading?" i mean, people figured it out that way, some of them, half of them. 300 retired generals, admirals,
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national security officials, famous diplomats, including jim baker and brent scowcroft and marine general zinni and the head of the former national security agency, bill odom, spoke out and wrote against invading iraq before it happened in march 2003. a majority of the people in this country think that there's something inflated about our military budget. [scattered laughter] all right. well, they've read the pentagon audits and the gao reports and the "60 minute" exposes and so on. it's horrendously inflated. waste, fraud, abuse is only part of it. we're still building cost-overrun military weapons systems designed for the soviet union era of hostility. like, the f-22 should never be built. you could put it on this stage. that's how much $200 million of
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electronics cost, profit in overruns. why are we building more submarines, nuclear submarines? one trident submarine--nuclear warheads can destroy 200 cities. that's before it reloads. why are we building more aircraft carriers, $15 billion a carrier? we got 13. the next country to challenge us is italy, has two. [laughter] it's the military industrial complex that eisenhower warned us against. people don't like that. they'd rather have that money go where eisenhower wanted it to go in his famous "cross of iron" speech that you can look up on the internet--april 1953, when he said, "is this the way we want to live? we can wipe out the soviet union. they can wipe us out." and then he did what no other president did. he listed
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how much a bomber cost, a tank cost, a cruiser cost, and translated it into schools and clinics and public transit systems and hospitals. a majority of the people think congress should have skin in their game. this is one which i almost got unanimity on when i was campaigning. i said, "how many of you think, since congress likes t buck iover to the white house about getting us into war, they don't want to deal with article 1, section 8, which gives them the exclusive right to declare war, how many of you think that any time congress and the white house want to plunge us into war, constitutionally or unconstitutionally, that immediately all able-bodied and age-related children and grandchildren of all members of congress are drafted?" [scattered chuckling] see?
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that would tend to concentrate their deliberations on capitol hill with thorough hearings by the senate foreign relations committee and the house foreign relation committee, and some of those retired military diplomats' security would have been up there with all the media to transmit their views back to the people. how many people here think that we should have civic training courses and civic experience for middle-school and high-school children all over the country? you know, physical education is being dropped all over the country. our children are getting fatter and fatter, they're getting more diabetes, they ae gettig demorazed, it rtricts tir potenal in life at young a, they're prediosed to high blood pressure, they're being exposed by electronic child molesters
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called food processing companies... [scattered chuckling] teaching them how to nag their parents at a very young age to buy junk food, to drink junk drink, while they're watching violent programs that show them how to kill. a colonel who used to teach at west point, col. grossman, was so offended by these "child programs" and vicious toys that he wrote a book called "teaching our children to kill." do you know any parents that aren't bothered by that? do you know any parents who want to have their children exposed to clever ads that nag them? that's the word that's used for prize-winning ads toward children on madison avenue. it has a high nag factor. [scattered chuckling] how about restoring our civil liberties? you think the majority of the people don't want arrests without charges, throwing people in jail without lawyers, many indefinitely?
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invasion of your privacy. going to your librarian and finding out what books you signed off on. and if the librarian notifies you, the librarian can be criminally prosecuted under the patriot act. you think a majority of the people want government to be able to invade your home without a warrant and not have to tell you for 72 hours? there's a huge consensus in this country on things that matter when you get down to specifics: where they live, work, play, pray, sleep, and raise their children. it's when it's at the abstract level of ideologies that the polarization exists, and those are promoted in order to control people, divide them against one another, divert them. you know, i sometimes meet conservatives who say, "i'm against--we're against government regulation." i say, "do you have a car?" "yeah." "what if the company discovers a serious defect, like a
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sticking throttle for a million cars, and doesn't tell you, and all of a sudden, your cars are going through other cars and trucks and walls? do you think the government should force them to do it?" not many people would say, "absolutely not. we want the freedom to go through a windshield." [scattered chuckling] you think the american people don't want a law enforcement expansion on corporate crime, fraud, and abuse? if you learned how few prosecutors there were in the justice department against environmental crimes, you wouldn't believe it. last time i counted, it was 78. 78 lawyers. can you imagine all the pollution laws that are not being enforced and being violated? just the water permit laws, for heaven's sake, are chronically violated by water polluters. you know, the double standard in corporate crime is really almost beyond belief. did anybody--
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any of you see this, um... this documentary that won the academy awards? i'm sure some of you did. here we go. >> "inside job." >> it's called "inside job." well, you must have seen the academy awards. california, you know. [scattered chuckling] ok, well, the producer, charles ferguson, he won the academy award for best documentary in 2011. he goes on the stage, and the audience is a billion people worldwide, and he says, "3 years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong." now look at the contrast. in december 2007, roy brown, a 54-year-old homeless man, walked into a capital one bank in shreveport, louisiana,
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without a visible weapon and told the teller to give him money. the teller handed him 3 stacks of bills, but brown took only a single hundred-dollar bill. he said he was homeless and hungry. the next day, he surrendered to the police voluntarily, telling them that his mother hadn't raised him that way. he pleaded guilty. you know what he got? 15 years in jail. >> wow. >> 15 years in jail. happens all over the country. the big boys get off. we are under-enforcing the criminal justice laws against corporations. there's no 3 strikes and out for a corporation. no 3 strikes and o. the's nprobati for a corporation, hardly ever. and the executives, they have shields of law firms to defend themselves. and it's getting worse because there were several hundred savings-and-loan executives prosecuted,
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convicted, and sent to jail 20 years ago, and some enron executives were. but they have so gamed the system, the corporate lawyers, it's extremely difficult to put them in jail. and by the way, if they went to jail, they would improve the prospects for prison reform. [laughter] and the food would be better. [laughter] the governments buy almost everything we buy. you know, it's called government procurement. they buy food, they buy clothing, they buy motor vehicles, they buy energy. they buy construction materials. and they can do specifications where they can stimulate innovation, and we got airbags that way. the auto companies controlled department of transportation under reagan, and we couldn't get airbags. so i went over to the general services administration, and i said to the administrator, who, luckily, happened to be a rigid
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republican from new hampshire and he was an auto supply dealer. now, listen, if you know anything about auto supply dealers, auto parts dealers, they have no awe of the auto companies in detroit. so i said to him, "you buy 40,000 cars a year for federal employees." he said, "yeah." i said, "how would you like to save some lives and some money?" he says, "how?" i said, "just specify, next time you procure these cars and put theout for d, airba." he did it, and gm knew it was coming because once the gsa gets airbags in cars, their ball game is over. they're going to have to provide it to the public. so they refused to bid. chrysler refused to bid. ford bid on 5,000 vehicles, and the rest is history. you now have airbags that can prevent you from exerting your freedom to go through a windshield, ok? [chuckling and applause] so...
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so people say to me, "look at all the things you've done. this is unbelievable." i said, "don't make me out as a freak." [scattered chuckling] you can do the same thing. you can have the same passion. you just want to do it. somebody wants to win the olympics, they work night and day to tin. somene wantto be a great poet or sculptors, they work hard to do it. and if we want to be an effective, strategic, successful citizen advocate, you work on it. you read history. you learn the lessons of the people before you who won; at how they won the struggle against slavery, and women's right to vote and civil rights and the farmer populist victories and the victories of industrial trade unions in those horrific dungeon factories in the late 19th century. you learn from them. you learn why our founders used the word "posterity" again and again. but we don't use that word anymore because we're too
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shortsighted as a society. we want it now. the corporations want it for the next quarterly report. the politicians want it for their next report on how much money they've raised. so the idea that ordinary people cannot become extraordinary citizens is nonsen. it's a lotasier th e all thk to chae it. howo you tu the country around? well, where do you start? you start where the lever is the most physically effective, and that's the u.s. congress. congress has the tax power, the spending power, the war declaration power, the confirmation of nominees power, the investigative power, the power to say no, the power to say yes. it affects us all the way down to our stockings. congress is made up of 535 men and women who put their shoes on every day like you and i. they want our votes.
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1,500 corporations get their way with the majority of the congress these days. they have no votes. we're the ones who have the votes, but we don't work at it. half of us don't vote, most of us don't do any homework about our incumbents, so we really can't critique them, and we allow them to flatter us, fool us, and flummox us. and, boy, are they good flatterers. if you ever meet a politician who doesn't flatter the people, i'll show you a visiting martian. [laughter] so, how do we do it? we start out by having a training session. you know, you want to learn how to play mahjong, poker, video games, you know, bridge, you got to learn the rules. you got to develop skills, so we have training sessions. nobody can
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stop us. they're right in our neighborhoods: neighborhood training sessions, community college, adult education. whatever. simple. you can do it over the internet. we learned how to lobby. we even learned simple things like how do you put on a news conference, how do you use the freedom of information act, how do you develop coalitions, how do you confront depression, political depression, people getting discouraged, people getting burnt-out. how do you elevate their morale? how do you get them to get rid of this mindset of "you can't fight city hall" or "you can't take on exxon"? we have historical antecedents for this. the next thing you do is you guarantee to your senator and representative an audience of 300 people, and you summon them to an agenda entitled "the subordination of corporate power to the sovereignty of the people: excessive corporate power and what nee to be done." even "business week"
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believes there's too much corporate power, and they live off corporate ads. you realize that so few people show up, and half a democracy is showing up at marches, city council meetings, courts, demonstrations. so few people show up, that if you can show that you're going to put 300 people in an auditorium like this or a high-school ditoriu you wilget your senator on this stage in person and a representative. and once you got them there and you're summoning them, and you're informed--you got all kinds of informed people: economists, accountants, engineers, technicians, community organizers, graphic artists. who's got this poster? >> right at your knees. >> right here? ok. lest you graphic artists among you, you want to see how you get
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your attention of your member of congress? you get the names of all the corporate interests that got their hooks in him. it's all public, it's all on the internet. you get the graphic artist to draw the senator, and then you put a jacket on the senator or representative, and then you put the logos, depending on the size of the contribution, all over the jacket like a nascar race, ok? so we did it for the speaker of the house, john boehner, who is the nemesis of the democratic party, and guess what. the democratic party so disrespects democratic voters in his southwest ohio district that they did not field an opponent this year. he's running unopposed, ok? here's john boehner. [audience murmurs] i don't know if you can see it, but afterwards, you can look at it. do you realize what it does to a politician to present him as something like this? huh?
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these are the interest groups who own him. sallie mae. he was a main opponent for student loan reform for years, and a very powerful one. look at it. it's on the sleeve. sallie mae. now you got 300 people here, 300 people there in the district, the district has 650,000 people, and pretty soon, you've got the numbers to select for a thousand serious members of a congress watchdog group, and this happens all over the country, 435 districts. every district has talent, every district has a community college, 4-year college, lot of talent. the thousand people put themselves behind an agreed agenda. i mentioned some of these: the living wage and full insurance and so on, war and peace. they agree from the beginning, so they don't have to bicker so much. they agree to
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devote 200 hours a year, volunteer 200 hours a year, 4 hours a week. they agree to raise or contribute $200 a year, and they open an office with 2 or 3 full-time staff. and then they summon their members with an agreed-upon, national agenda of long-overdue redirection supported by a majority of the american people, what abraham lincoln called "the public sentiment" when he said, "with the public's sentiment, you can do anything," which is why i say 1% of the american people turning congress around, turns the executive branch around, turns our priorities into humane and productive paths, reduces the level of corrosive greed, and on and on. we become a humanitarian superpower instead of a military-ravaging empire. on and on. do you know
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how fast the congress would turn around? you couldn't count the days. you couldn't count the days. they'll be so stunned with all of these congress watchdog groups coming at them in so many strategic and technical ways and reaching out, and they know that this group has a majority behind them. that's how fast we can turn it around. and in many areas, if you don't do the reforms fast, you'll give the opposition time to gam the ystem ad delay harry uman proposed universal health insurance in the 1940s. we still don't have it. we got regulation of the auto industry 9 months after "unsafe at any speed" came out in november 1965. i'm not talking from political theory here. i'm talking from experience. i've never seen more public demoralization.
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i've never seen more americans give up on themselves as citizens. i've never seen people so pessimistic that their children are not going to do as well as they are, and the future looking so grim. i've never seen them elect more ignorant and stupid people, who have taken their power and sold it for what used to be called "the mess of pottage" and is today called "campaign contributions," and then turn that power against the very people who gave them that power under our representative form of government. 25% of the congress today would support this agenda that i described. 20, 25. that's a pretty good start. and once they see the support from back home, they will become your tribunes with their colleagues on capitol hill. now, let me put it very specifically: "justice needs money." i know a lot of progressives
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don't like that. they like to do god's work with no money. every social justice movement in our country of significant magnitude was funded, with the exception of the labor movement, by rich people. rich bostonians and new yorkers funded the abolition movement, including supporting frederick douglass, who came up with one of the greatest civic insights of all: "power concedes nothing without a demand." and if we are so, so shorn of any morale that we don't even demand anymore because we've given up on ourselves, why should the power brokers give us the time of day, especially when they got two parties dialing for the se commeral dolla?
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so here we go. you'll never hear this type of proposal. ready? justice needs money. the environmental movement was funded before it became a membership base by a few rich people. the early civil rights moment, heavy funding from the stern fund in new orleans, the curry family in virginia. the women's suffrage movement was slowing down until some rich women helped fund it in the 19th century. a small portion of very rich people, especially in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, where they have a different perspective on life. they want to look their grandchildren in their eye. they're thinking of not wanting to leave this country, heading for the cliff. they can do a tremendous contribution by funding
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these justice movements. i even wrote a book on it called "only the super-rich can save us." it was political fiction, but it had a lot of reality. so, for example, george soros could have backed up those hundreds of retired military, diplomatic, and national security people, quadrupled their number in two months if he put $200 million behind them to stop the invasion of iraq and to stop and expose the lie of bush and cheney in the 9 months before march 2003. george soros was vigorously against the war. he gave interviews. he spoke, and he wrote. he didn't make the connection that it needs money to back up with an infrastructure for these people. $200 million for george soros can be compared with a reasonably good year when
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he makes $3 billion. ted turner, for example, can vastly increase the peace movement. we've heard of waging war. what about waging peace? what about anticipating conflict? what about not exaggerating criminal gangs and following up with massive invasions, blowing countries apart, and spreading the criminal gangs into 22 countries? al-qaeda. what about spending ourselves into penury in terms of deficits and the $3 trillion over the next 30 years that joseph stiglitz, a nobel prize laureate, said the iraq war is going to cost us? not just the immediate war and all that, but all the follow-ups of the veterans and so on. bill gates sr. and the famous trial lawyer in texas,
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joe jamail, could easily fund reopening our courts so ordinary people can use them, so ordinary people who are wrongfully injured can have their day in court and not be blocked by what is maliciously called tort reform by taking people's age-old rights of having a trial by jury away from them. they could open up the courts to poor people. because bill gates sr. has made that one of his missions in life. he's a corporate lawyer, but he made opening up access to justice one of his missions in life. warren buffett, he's worth now $52 billion. for $1.25 billion, i can show warren buffett in 3 years maximum how to completely transform the tax system so it is an efficient, fair source of revenue without inequities that
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exist today and the perverse incentives that distort investment into unproductive channels. what is $1.25 billion for warren buffett? he gives $3 billion a year to the gates foundation, on whose board he serves. i've had rich people--very, very rich people--tell me, "we know how to make a lot of money. we do not have a clue what to do with it, and that includes us." so if we want to be very practical about it and speed things up, if we know very rich people--and silicon valley has a few of them--recognize the following: that a lot of them could care less. they want to make more money, or they're into their little gadgets. it's amazing how much brain power is being poured on technical changes and innovations of minimal significance. just look at
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th apps laly. i me, they're embarssing as a cultu. [lahter] people can find ways to save millions of lives and not make anywhere near the amount of money that some little quigley app for some idiotic whim that is promoted, ok? but there are people in silicon valley--you should try to bring them together for a dinner. i would be glad to attend--who i can show can leave a legacy with their heads so high that it would reach the sky. because the country's ripe-- we're a country that has so many problems we don't deserve and solutions we don't apply. and that's the democracy gap. and to get it changed, we need field organizers; we need media; we need expenses. and these-- billionaires, without having to
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persuade them. you go where their own sense of justice is already indicated, like buffett on taxes. he thinks he should not pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. we can show him how it can be done. now, this comes from many a year of going into the corridors in capitol hill in the office. i know their psychology. i know their vulnerability. i know how they can be shamed. and i know how they can be led to holtheir he high asell. let me just end on this note. some of you try to get people out to meetings, marches, demonstrations, city council meetings. you phone them, you email them, you beg them. you're not trying to change their mind. they agree with you. they just are otherwise preoccupied. and so you know what the 4 excuses of civic abandonment are, don't you? the first is when you ask them,
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"well, why don't you come out with us? why don't you be engaged?" "i don't have time." if they have time, the second excuse is, "i don't know the rules. i don't know what to do." these are people who know complex video games. these are people who know how to fix things. these are people who know how to read the tax code, and they're telling us they don't know about robert's rules of procedure in a town council meeting. well, if they have the time and they're not daunted by learning some of the rules, they say, "well, i don't want to get myself in trouble where i work. if i'm seen as a troublemaker, i won't get promoted. and i don't need that." well, if they're not blistered by moonbeams, what's their final excuse? this is one i can't rebut. the excuse is, "well, i have the time. i know what to do, and i don't care about being controversial. but i can do it
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and nothing will happen because the big boys will decide." now, that's the prescription of dropping out of democracy. that's the ultimate surrender. and we should try to avoid that with our friends and our neighbors. because in so many ways, if we don't do it for ourselves, we have to do it for our children. and in so many ways, this concept of fair play, where people live and work, and the concept of the golden rule, which is trans-cultural, bring people who are divided at abstract ideological levels together in the pursuit of what senator daniel webster many decades ago called "justice, which is the great work of human beings on earth." i'll leave it at that for a discussion. thank you very much. [applause]
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>> good evening. and i'm just delighted to have this conversation with you, mr. nader. and welcome to all of you this evening. we are gonna have a conversation. and then we're gonna open up to questions that you all have submitted. so let's just kick it right off now. when i told my friends, ralph, that i was going to interview you tonight, the most frequent response i got was, "ralph nader. where's he been? what's he been up to?" so where have you been? and what have you been up to? >> see, if you're not on the evening news, you're not on the national media, they don't think you're doing anything. we have never stopped. we start new groups. we foster all kinds of proposals. we try to disseminate information. we loby capito hil. we ner stoped. i mean, if you want to see what we're doing, you want to get my weekly column free, just go to and sign up and look back over the years.
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it's been 40 years now. you'll see what we're working on. and all the groups that i founded i like to spin off so they're autonomous and they're on their own two feet. there have been over a hundred of these groups. >> fantastic. so we're coming up now on the presidential election. what is your prediction for the presidential election? and are you going to vote? [laughter] >> uh, first of all, i always believe in voting. i don't ever publicize my vote. i believe in the privacy of the vote. the election now is basically, it's a two-party duopoly. they don't like competition. they exclude third parties from debates, which commissioned, is a corporation they control. and so i think that the differences on foreign and military policy are de minimis. the difference on corporate policy, not much. the democrats have better rhetoric. there are
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differences on social security and medicare and civil rights. i don't think there's that much difference on civil liberties. unfortunately, the democrats have degraded in that area very seriously. so my guess is that obama will probably win. biden was going at it on the way with paul ryan. and i was just amazed at how unimaginative the questions were. i mean, just to give you one quick example, when paul ryan was indicating his solicitude to the poor... [laughter] this is one of the cruelest budgets ever proposed, if not the worst, in american history. biden, because mum's the word, the democrats have decided that franklin delano roosevelt, one of his cardinal achievements--the 1938 federal minimum wage law--was never to be discussed in this campaign.
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elizabeth warren is not allowed to discuss it. joe biden is not allowed to discussed it. george miller doesn't discuss it publicly. he put in a bill under our stress just for pro forma. never had a press conference. nancy pelosi doesn't discuss it. richard trumka of the afl doesn't discuss it. and the minimum wage today adjusted for inflation, as i mentioned, would put tens of billions of dollars at ten bucks an hour--tens of billions of dollars in people's hands to jump-start for the recessionary economy. biden could have skewered ryan, and he was muzzled because obama doesn't want to discuss this because he might be accused of being against small business, who he's given 18 tax breaks by his own admission on the first debate. 18 tax breaks, and 2/3 of all low-income workers are employed by 50 large corporations, like wal-mart and mcdonald's, whose ceos get
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an average of $10 million a year. and you think this was a slam dunk, but it isn't. so i think our presidential politics are rancid, repetitious, cowardly, and commercialized. so whoever wins, don't expect that much. >> ok. so... [applause] ralph, you've run for the presidency a number of times. so let's just hypothetically, if you were, in fact, elected and you were president of the united states, how would you deal with the extreme partisanship of congress? how would you break the gridlock if you were in the white house? >> go straight to the people. you know, the president is known to get good media. [applause] ha ha! you barnstorm the country around a, let's say for convenience's sake, a 10-point agenda of redirecting our country-ike i poted out-
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and you'll see the partisanship melt in favor of political survival on capitol hill. you know, you're supposed to be a president of all the people. go to the people. the people are sovereign. the constitution starts with "we, the people..." not, "we, the corporation..." and you will see how fast that happens. you know who did that? bill bradley did that. he went all over the country as senator from new jersey generating support for tax reform in 1986. and it was a fairly good piece of legislation, which ronald reagan endorsed. but he hit the hustings. >> well, didn't president obama do that with health care? wasn't he out there beating the drums and...? >> but the wrong kind. >> what do you mean? >> he wouldn't further what he said he believes in-- single payer, full medicare for all--because he said, "it's not practical." which is another way of saying, "i can't take on the supremely popular health insurance companies and drug companies," right?
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he wasn't worried. as a result, his system will not restrain the enormous costs that are increasing. it'll leave 30 million people still uninsured after it's fully implemented. and it's so complex that it opened itself up to attacks and parity by the republicans. you know, the canadians got full health care for everybody. they do it on half the cost--$4,500 per capita a year. we spend $8,500 per capita a year, 50 million people uncovered. our obamacare is 1,500 pages. do you know how long the canadian medicare bill was? 13 pages. [scattered gasps] the more complex, the more waivers, the more exceptions, the more "ooh, ah," the more it can be gamed, delayed, twisted, misapplied, nullified. so i always knew obama--back
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in illinois, he had a personality that's conflict averse when it comes against power. he doesn't care about people who support him. he'll turn his back on people who support him because he's got them for granted. if he's conflict averse, he's not the president that we need. you have to have the president take on the corporate power brokers and their corporate law firms and their p.r. and their cash writing arms. if you don't, how are you gonna change washington, which is corporate-occupied territory? >> all right. another question. [applause] all right. so... you have authored, i believe, 11 books. and i've read two of them. i've read your "seventeen solutions," and i've read "the seventeen traditions." what's up with the number 17? >> ha ha! well, when i wanted to write how my parents raised their 4 children in a factory town in connecticut
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in the depression and during world war ii, i ended up with 17 traditions. and they're basically how they raised us. it's all the problems all families have--how do you get your children to eat right; not to fall in with the wrong crowd; to respect their parents; to do their chores? you know, things like that. and i reached 17. and so they called it "seventeen traditions." now my publisher, harpercollins, is hung up on... >> 17. >> the number 17, solutions. i told them, "i either have a lot less or a lot more solutions, but if you want 17, ok." >> so let's talk about changing the system through civic engagement. and that's really at the core of your 17 solutions. >> yeah, exactly. >> so the case in point i want to talk about is mine. >> yes. >> i ran for the palo alto city council in 2004. and in taking a stand against campaign financing, i refused to take any monetary donations from
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anybody. >> oh, my god. thank you very much. >> so... [applause] so in doing so, i had to then develop a grassroots organization. and i did win a seat on the city council. so thereafter, i won, and nothing has changed. so in subsequent city council races, palo alto, bay area, those running for city council, they're out raising a bunch of money, going to people getting the donations. so what did i do wrong? >> you mean because you didn't win the votes on city council? >> i won. i won the election, but i didn't change the way people are running for elections, meaning i didn't take any money. but people are out taking money, so what did i do? >> there are two ways to win an election. one is to be a good candidate and be very persuasive and win like you did. and another is to mobilize people so you win from a mass movement. because once you have a mass movement, two things happen-- you get a mandate, so you don't
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forget where you came from. but you signal to your competitors that there are gonna be other mass movements in their bailiwick the next time around. but if you win sort of solo, because you're a good person and you're articulate, you don't have that kind of mandate. the last major reform movement in america, the most major, was the populist progressive one in the late 1880s. and they elected senators and governors and mayors--almost a president-- over the next 20 years. and it's because they came out of a mass movement. and these representatives for the most part delivered because they came out of that movement. they knew that they couldn't face that movement if they betrayed them. so that's really what i suggest. you have to be elected with a lot of people, not from a lot of people. >> got it. so let's talk about another aspect of this, of we, the people, and about the initiative process. now,
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it's my understanding that the initiative process was initiated by we, the people. it was basically an effort by people to take back government from wealthy people. and, really, the initiative process started in idaho, of all places, where the railroad barons were pretty much paying off legislators. so we have today the initiative process that i think has primarily become the tool of the wealthy. a rich person gets an idea, pays people, gets the signatures, and gets whatever he or she wants on the ballot, oftentimes poorly drafted. and i tend to call it the initiative industrial complex, basically. i think that's what we have in california. so what do you think about the initiative process and how do we, the people, take the initiative process back? >> well, as you know, it was governor hiram johnson, a great gift to the people of california--i wish we had that in connecticut, where i come from--and we had a little experience with that in prop 103, the auto insurance property, casualty reform initiative of 1988 that we
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advocated here, because your auto insurance premiums are among the highest in the country. and we had $2 million to spend. the insurance industry hurled $80 million against us-- tv ads and so on. and we beat them. and there are about $80 billion less money you all have had to pay in the ensuing years. why did we beat them? one is we went up and down the state. it was a real grassroots effort. harvey rosenfield and others were involved. second, the media covered it every day, and especially the "los angeles times." and, third, it was something everyone understood, when they write their auto insurance, you know, check. so it wasn't complex to understand. so it is true. the corporations have twisted grotesquely this initiative right that you have against you. i mean, even the tobacco companies blocked one recently, didn't they? there was supposed
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to be a little higher tax on tobacco. tobacco's not very popular these days. but they twisted it because they dominated the airwaves with thr propagda. ok, campaign finance reform. if you want to have an honest initiative referendum/recall process, you got to have public funding of public campaigns. otherwise, you will get this grotesque takeover of the initiative process. not all of them--but that will basically demoralize everybody. you say, "look, this is direct democracy, and the corporations have taken it over." there have been some great wins in california in the last 30, 40 years by the people through the initiative process. there's a great one, prop 37-- it would be if you win it, the first labeling of genetically-engineered foods in the supermarket. and that has... [applause] that has major consequences beyond your right to know that are beneficial in the future.
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prop 30 restores some of the taxes--a tiny bit--on the wealthy. governor jerry brown is trying to get through. otherwise, there are gonna be some serious further cuts in calc--education and tuition hikes and so forth. so there are some good ones. but if people don't do their homework, they can't nullify some of that money against them. because they'll be vulnerable to propaganda, to that 30-second ad. but if they look at that booklet--what's that called, that booklet? >> the... >> for the initiatives? >> the election guide, the ballot guide. >> yeah. the election guide. if they spend some time, you know, just studying it--they got the pro and con--it's a way to insulate themselves from this 30-second propaganda barrage that hits the airwaves. >> we can to only have 10 minutes to take questions from the audience. and i've got a lot. so i'm going to ask a favor of you, which is... >> sure. >> to, if you can, keep your answers brief... >> and i'll go 20 if you'd like.
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>> well, i'm looking at my timekeeper here. i had a rule in my court for lawyers to be the 3 bs--be clear, be brief, be seated. >> ok. >> so you're already seated. so just be clear and brief, and we're ready to go. all right. first question, what is the most significant ideological issue on which you have changed your mind over the course of your life? >> the draft. i was against the draft. now we have a professional army. it is flattered by the politicians who send it into illegal maneuvers abroad and invasions. and that was a mistake. i think we should have the draft. because there will be too many people drafted, they will go into two years' public service. even william f. buckley supported a public service for--young people who are 18. i think when you're part of the risk, you're gonna be part of the solution. our founding fathers did not want a professional army. they were very explicit about
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this. they called it-- we did not want a standing army. and the moment we get awe and a tiny number of people go to fight when they shouldn't be sent to fight because "they're a professional army" doing their job--the moment we have that awe, we surrender to that kind of militarization of our foreign policy. and having been in the army, i can assure you that when you're in the army, navy, air force, or marines, you don't have awe of those people when you get out, because you know too much. >> second question, what are the most important questions you would ask the presidential candidates in the next debate? >> how will you shift power from the few to the many in ways that make it very easy for people to band together as consumers, as workers into democratic trade unions, as small taxpayer groups, and as communities who are being abandoned by corporations under government policy and tax benefits to send
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the jobs to fascist and communist regime abroad? >> compound and complex. all right. [applause and cheers] new york was home to 3 teams-- the giants, the dodgers, and the yankees. the giants and the dodgers were known as "the people's team." the yankees were the elitist team. what possessed you to be a yankees fan? [laughter] >> first of all, whenever you're a yankee fan and you're a little boy, you're a little boy forever. and i was a yankee fan right after lou gehrig died. and i learned a lot about stamina by knowing about lou gehrig. you know, his constant playing, his constant game attendance. he set a record until the baltimore orioles broke it, the player cal ripken broke it. and i grew up in the era of joe dimaggio and mickey mantle.
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and when steinbrenner came across, it sort of soured me. and i lost interest pretty much. but i'm still 10 years d when comes tbeing yankee f. >> a right. ha ha! [applause] why do you think elizabeth warren was not given the position of head of the consumer financial protection bureau? >> because she was too good for the job. my father once said, "the only way you lose your job in government is to do your job." [laughter] >> there you go. [applause] all right. what advice would you give to someone having a child in 2013? >> uh, is there a reason for the year? >> just meaning now. it could be now. >> this is not a nostradamus question. >> no, no. [laughter] don't know. probably not. ha ha! [audiencmember saking indistinctly > this ithe advi.
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>> rd the book. >> these are my parents'. we just wrote them down from time to time through their commentsn a cigabox, whi all children should do for their parents and grdparents becse the's ge wisdoin experince ovea perio of years. and it'll be forever lost to history, to our larger society, and to your children and grandchildren. >> it's a lovely book, and i just read it this weekend-- "the seventeen traditions." thanks. "what is the chance of developing a true progressive movement in this country, one that can be impervious to money? >> if enough people will it, it happens. if they organize the 1%, it will happen. it takes people with the same determination to do what your question is directed that people indicate when they join a serious birdwatchers' club. i'll settle for that level of intensity. [laughter] nobody can stop people from doing it. the other answer to your question if you get a very enlightened billionaire, who is
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a progressive billionaire and runs for the presidency, writes out a check for $500 million and turns it into a 3-way race. ipso facto. the press covers him or her because they're rich. the polls cover them. they can't keep them off the debates. a 3-way race. break the grip and get people used to voting for alternative candidates. >> "on reflection, what are some takeaways you have from your campaigns for president?" >> e is, a takeaway is dozens of lawsuits against us by the democrats to get us off-balance. and we've documented all that. and it's very important--when a two-party system has fangs to make them bring those fangs out publicly. so they're not hiding behind the myth of democracy and competitive elections. and the other thing is i've never seen people convey to me their sense that they've lost control over everything that
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matters in their life, including their children. they've lost control over their government. they've lost control over their big employers. they've lost control over their schools. they just feel they've lost control. and, of course, we campaign to combat that. but that waa very dp feelin and that's what we got to turn around. that's what we got to turn around. and that's what i wrote this book, "seventeen solutions," for. >> so we've got one minute left. "what are your thoughts on the impact of social media today?" >> i think it's great to tell people what's going on--events. it's great to get information. its achilles' heel is this susceptibility to massive overwhelming gossip and trivia between parties. it hasn't proved yet, except a little bit in the occupy wall street, that it can take people from virtual reality communicating with each other into reality showing up as human beings with other
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human beings. and the only way to motivate people is person to person. it cannot be done through electronics. you can perhaps tell them about it. you can inform them that motivation comes from small gatherings growing into large-scale movements. all change starts from one or two people and small communities. there's a great book by arthur morgan, the former head of the tennessee valley authority under franklin roosevelt. he went all over the world to find out what could start change. his answer-- small communities. those of you who want to extend this discussion, our website is and you can get my column, as i think i mentioned, by going to and you get it every week. and if you want to broaden out, connect with for many of our other groups in health, in energy, and public
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interest litigation, and so forth. you can see how early we got that domain name. [applause] >> so i thank you, ralph neighbor--ralph nader... >> [laughter] >> ralph nader, the consumer advocate in our neighborhood. thank you so much. >> thank you very much. thank you. thank you. [laughs] [applause]
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