Responding to President Obama’s State of the Union address, longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader says Obama’s criticism of income inequality and Wall Street excess fail to live up to his record in office. “[Obama] says one thing and does another,” Nader says. “Where has he been for over three years? He’s had the Justice Department. There are existing laws that could prosecute and convict Wall Street crooks. He hasn’t sent more than one or two to jail.” On foreign policy, Nader says, “I think his lawless militarism, that started the speech and ended the speech, was truly astonishing. [Obama] was very committed to projecting the American empire, in Obama terms.”
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined right now by Ralph Nader to talk more about President Obama’s State of the Union address, longtime consumer advocate, former presidential candidate. His latest book is Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win.”
Ralph Nader, your response to the State of the Union address? It could be President Obama’s last. It could be the beginning of a new President Obama for a second term. What do you think?
RALPH NADER: Well, I think his lawless militarism, that started the speech and ended the speech, was truly astonishing. I mean, he was very committed to projecting the American empire, in Obama terms, force projection in the Pacific, and distorting the whole process of how he explains Iraq and Afghanistan. He talks about Libya and Syria, and then went into the military alliance with Israel and didn’t talk about the peace process or the plight of the Palestinians, who are being so repressed. Leaving Iraq as if it was a victory? Iraq has been destroyed: massive refugees, over a million Iraqis dead, contaminated environment, collapsing infrastructure, sectarian warfare. He should be ashamed of himself that he tries to drape our soldiers, who were sent on lawless military missions to kill and die in those countries, unconstitutional wars that violate Geneva conventions and international law and federal statutes, and drape them as if they’ve come back from Iwo Jima or Normandy. So I think it was very, very poor taste to start and end with this kind of massive militarism and the Obama empire.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And on the economy, Ralph Nader, on the economy, your response to what Obama said last night?
RALPH NADER: A lot of good-sounding words. He’s very good at that. I’m glad he focused on Wall Street abuses on more than one occasion. I’m glad that he focused on renewable energy. But notice that he just mentioned climate change but didn’t go anywhere on that one. He still is not able to use the word “poverty.” It’s always the middle class, which is shrinking into poverty. But you’ve got 60, 70, 80 million people living in poverty in the United States, and child poverty.
And the most amazing gap was his promise in 2008 to press for the raising of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 by 2011. So, he went for equal pay for equal work for women, but millions of people in this country, one out of every three full-time workers, are earning Wal-Mart wages, many of them not far over the $7.25 rate. Now, the $9.50 minimum wage would still be less in inflation-adjusted terms than it was in 1968, when worker productivity was half of what it is today.
So, a lot of his suggestions, like the attitude toward foreign trade—well, he said that in 2008 he wanted to revise NAFTA. He didn’t lift a finger. So how credible are his words vis-à-vis China, for example, in the trade area and importing hazardous products into this country? How credible are his words? How credible are his words when he says he wants to start a financial crimes unit in the Justice Department? I mean, what does that mean, unless he demands a much larger budget for prosecutors and law enforcement officials against the corporate crime wave? Maybe he needs a subscription to the Corporate Crime Reporter to tell him that we’ve been through these kinds of rhetorics before by prior presidents. They’re going to establish an enforcement unit here and there, but without a major budget, it’s going to go nowhere.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me play President Obama’s announcement last night of a new unit devoted to investigating major financial crimes.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’ll also establish a financial crimes unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people’s investments. Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because there’s no real penalty for being a repeat offender. That’s bad for consumers, and it’s bad for the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals who do the right thing. So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count. And tonight I’m asking my attorney general to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama announcing that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will head this unit. I’m going back to the—to August, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman being kicked off a 50-state task force negotiating a possible settlement with the nation’s largest mortgage companies, the move coming just a day after the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was pressuring Schneiderman to agree to a broad state settlement with banks over questionable foreclosure tactics. Ralph Nader, your response?
RALPH NADER: Well, that’s the double standard that he’s such an expert at, Obama. He says one thing and does another. Where has he been for over three years? He’s had the Justice Department. There are existing laws that could prosecute and convict Wall Street crooks. He hasn’t sent more than one or two to jail. So, it is important to strengthen the corporate criminal laws through congressional legislation, but what has he done? This financial crimes unit, that’s like putting another label on a few doors in the Justice Department without a real expansion in the budget.
But then, when he said to the American people, “no more bailouts, no more handouts, and no more cop-outs” — but that’s what’s been going on. And it’s going on today and it went on last year under his administration. Washington is a bustling bazaar of accounts receivable. They’re bailing out and they’re handing out all kinds of subsidies to corporations—handouts, giveaways, transfer of technology, transfer of medical research to the drug companies without any reasonable price provisions on drugs, giveaway of natural resources on the federal lands. You name it, it’s still going on. And as far as a cop-out, how about his deferred prosecution gimmicks with these corporations under the Justice Department, where they never have to plead guilty, they never have to make themselves vulnerable to civil lawsuits so they pay back the American people what they’ve stolen from them?
So, obviously, State of the Union speeches are full of rhetoric, they’re full of promises, but it’s good to measure them against the past performance of the Obama administration and what his promises were in 2008. They don’t really stand up very well.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ralph Nader, I want to turn to the Republican response to the State of the Union address. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a former budget director under President George W. Bush, delivered the response to his address, to Obama’s address. He slammed Obama for halting the Keystone XL pipeline project that would transport oil from Canada to Texas, equating the move to a, quote, “pro-poverty policy.”
GOV. MITCH DANIELS: The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy. It must be replaced by a passionate pro-growth approach that breaks all ties and calls all close ones in favor of private sector jobs that restore opportunity for all and generate the public revenues to pay our bills.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ralph Nader, your response?
RALPH NADER: Well, first of all, the XL pipeline is basically shipping very dirty Albertan oil down through the United States, over very, very sensitive aquifers and other environmental conditions, down to the Gulf in order to ship it abroad. That’s the big farce of this pipeline project. It’s not going to be brought to make this country more reliant on Canada instead of the Middle East. It’s basically an export pipeline.
And the second is, Mitch Daniels would have done the public a great service, in his speech, if he would have urged the corporations in this country, who are sitting on $2 trillion of cash, like Cisco and Apple and Google, to start giving some of that cash back to shareholders in terms of dividends and to pension funds and mutual funds, which would increase consumer demand and create more jobs, just the way a minimum wage increase would increase consumer demand to create more jobs. Instead, he didn’t say that. And Obama has constantly restricted any kind of stimulant to tax breaks, to tax incentives, to tax reductions, which of course will not do much to build up the government’s resources for a major job-producing public works program in every community, good-paying jobs repairing America— schools, bridges, public transit, drinking water systems—jobs that cannot be exported abroad. So, we need to develop a very concrete critique of these politicians’ statements up against what they could do if they had the courage of their office.
Imagine Obama never mentioning the Occupy movement. Imagine Obama never mentioning the Occupy Wall Street movement, the main citizen awareness movement to be coupled with his alleged concern with Wall Street abuses. And yet he talks about advancing human dignity for all people abroad, and he never talks about a major human dignity initiative, the Occupy initiative, based on peaceful resistance to oligarchy and plutocracy. He’s a political coward. He’s got to repair back to the Oval Office and ask himself why he can’t stand for the people in this country who are really aware and trying to improve our democracy and advance justice and make government and corporations accountable.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, you have written a new book called Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win. People may be listening to you right now and agreeing with a lot of what you are saying, and also saying, “What is the alternative here? Mitt Romney? Newt Gingrich?” What is your response to that?
RALPH NADER: Well, this is the book, and I’m going to drop it off at the White House soon. I think he should read it, because the left is not making any demands on Obama because they’re so freaked out by the Republicans and their crazed rhetoric on their debates. Well, if that is going to continue for 2012, that means the corporations are pulling on Obama and the Democratic Party. The Republicans are pulling on Obama and Democratic Party, because they’re getting all the media, because they have a vibrant primary process, and there’s no primary challenge to Obama, so the progressive agenda is not getting any media at all, week after week.
So the alternative, Amy, is for the left, such as they are — progressive, liberal people, I like to call them “justice seekers” — to make demands on Obama, to make demands for improving the rights of labor, improving the rights of small farmers, improving the rights of small business, the environmental demands that need to be made, the crackdown on corporate crime, a whole panoply of corporate reform agenda, the kind of crackdown on these global corporations that have abandoned America and shipped jobs and industries to fascist and communist regimes who know how to keep workers in their place.
But there is no pull, because they’re so freaked out by the Republicans. So, one can really say the Republicans could sit around in a smoke-filled room and say, “Let’s be even more crazed. Let’s be even more corporatist.” This will create a good vacuum for the Democrats to move into, because both parties are dialing for the same corporate dollars, and it will bring the left to their knees, because they’ll say, “We’ve got nowhere to go.”
Well, the reason why this speech was so failing, especially in foreign and military policy, the reason why it was so failing is because Obama doesn’t have to worry about tens of millions of people who call themselves progressives or liberals, because they have signaled to him that they got nowhere to go. Well, I think if they believe they got nowhere to go, that they don’t want to vote for a third party or Green Party, they can at least, in April, May, June, hold his feet to the fire and present him with a set of progressive demands, in order to tell him that they do have a place to go: they can stay home. And that’s what hurt the Democrats in 2010. People can just stay home.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I want to thank you for being with us. His book is called Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win.
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