Describing the United States as an “advanced Third World country,” longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader calls for a new mass movement to challenge the power corporations have in Washington. “It is not too extreme to call our system of government now ‘American fascism.’ It’s the control of government by big business, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt defined in 1938 as fascism,” Nader says. “We have the lowest minimum wage in the Western world. We have the greatest amount of consumer debt. We have the highest child poverty, the highest adult poverty, huge underemployment, a crumbling public works — but huge multi-billionaires and hugely profitable corporations. I say to the American people: What’s your breaking point? When are you going to stop making excuses for yourself? When are you going to stop exaggerating these powers when you know you have the power in this country if you organize it?” Nader has just published a new book, “Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns.”
Never miss another story
Get the news you want, delivered to your inbox every day.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Aaron Maté: For the rest of the hour, we’re joined by Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, corporate critic, attorney, author, activist and former presidential candidate. For well over four decades, Ralph has helped us drive safer cars, eat healthier food, breathe better air, drink cleaner water and work in safer environments. His devotion to political reform and citizens’ activism has fueled a number of critical policy victories and the creation of generations of watchdogs and activists to carry them forward.
Amy Goodman: Ralph Nader came to prominence in the early ’60s, when he began to take on powerful corporations and work with local activists on their campaigns, putting himself on the map in 1965 with his book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. In this interview from that same year, Nader pointed out the safety flaws of General Motors’ Chevrolet Corvair.
Ralph Nader: What aggravates the problem is that the rear wheels of the Corvair begin to tuck under. And as they tuck under—the angle of tuck under is called “camber.” And as they tuck under, it can go from three or four degrees camber to 11 degrees camber almost in an instant. And when that happens, nobody can control the Corvair. Interestingly—
CBC Interviewer: Well, then, surely they did the right thing. They found out there was something was wrong with the car, and they fixed it.
Ralph Nader: Yes. The question is: Why did it take them four years to find out? This is my point. Either it’s sheer callousness or indifference, or they don’t bother to find out how their cars behave.
Aaron Maté: Ralph Nader’s exposé led to the first of a number of federal laws bearing his imprint: the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. As he moved on to public and environmental health, Nader would help spur landmark bills, including the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, and the creation of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Environment Protection Agency. Meanwhile, Nader also helped found a number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to the common good, including the Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, and Public Citizen.
Amy Goodman: In recent years, Ralph Nader’s name has become synonymous with challenging the nation’s two-party political system. He ran for president in 1996 and 2000 as a candidate on the Green Party ticket, again in 2004 and 2008 as an independent.
Ralph Nader is just out with a new book—it’s his columns—called Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns. It’s an anthology collecting Nader’s weekly opinion pieces. Throughout, Nader tackles the major political issues of our time while offering practical solutions rooted in collective organizing.
Ralph Nader joins us for the first time in our studios, the greenest TV, radio, Internet studios in the country.
Ralph Nader: Thank you.
Amy Goodman: It’s good to have you with us. So, the title, Told You So?
Ralph Nader: Yes. I’ve been impressed by how all the warmongers and the false predictors get promoted, and they get on op-ed pages, and they get jobs after they have failed in the U.S. government. We know Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and Wolfowitz and Cheney and all these people. And we don’t—we don’t recognize people who have predicted accurately, who have spotted problems arising, as we should. And so I decided to say—excuse me—I decided to say, “Told you so,” as we told Nixon about the rise of corporate crime. We warned about the Iraq War and the consequences. We made sure that the consequences of repealing Glass-Steagall were going to lead to huge speculation and serious problems on Wall Street for trillions of dollars of workers’ money. And again and again and again. And there’s something wrong with a society that marginalizes, in so many ways, the people who were right, the people who predicted right, who cautioned, who sent up the warning signals to the American people; and the people who got us into Iraq and warmongering and militarism and corporatism, they’re the ones who get applauded, those are the ones who get $100,000 speeches, like Bush is getting, $150,000. So, I decided—
Amy Goodman: Where did he get that?
Ralph Nader: I decided to throw down the gauntlet and say, “Told you so.”
Aaron Maté: Ralph, can you compare our capacity for taking on corporate crime, one of your big issues, from when you first started out to today? Have we developed any improved regulatory framework to tackle the crimes of corporations?
Ralph Nader: No, the corporate criminals have overrun the government. The Justice Department now has expanded Bush’s practice of deferred prosecution. So, Attorney General Holder and President Obama now are basically saying to corporate crooks, “You don’t have to admit. You don’t have to deny culpability. We’ll defer prosecution. Just pay a fine that’s a fraction of the cost of doing business.” So the drug companies may pay individually when they’re caught, $500 million, a billion dollars, but they’ve gained numerous billions of dollars. Nobody goes to jail. No corporate charters are pulled. It’s basically above the law.
Aaron Maté: Ralph, in the past few months, fast-food workers across the country have walked off the job in a bid for a higher minimum wage. They’re seeking $15 an hour and the right to unionize without harassment. The one-day strikes have hit seven cities: Seattle, Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago and New York City. This is organizer Jennifer Epps-Addison of the group Citizens Action of Wisconsin.
Jennifer Epps-Addison: Fast food, in retail, it’s one of the fastest-growing industries. It’s one of the most profitable, with $200 billion in profits. And yet, these are the lowest-paid workers in our economy. They’re standing up and saying, “Our families can’t survive on $7.25 an hour.”
Aaron Maté: Ralph, this is a big issue of yours, seeking a higher minimum wage. Your thoughts on this fast-food strike?
Ralph Nader: Yeah, it’s a good start. And we’ve got to show the American people it’s easier than they think to turn the country around in many ways. And let’s start with the lowest bar of all. Thirty million workers in this country are making less today than that workers made in 1968, inflation-adjusted. These are the workers who clean up after us, grow our food, serve us in the stores, take care of our ailing grandparents. Just let that figure sink in. These are the workers that are most underemployed, underinsured. They work in often the most dangerous situations. They don’t have unions. And the question is: Is our society so inert, is our society so surrendering of any kind of civic sovereignty, that we cannot get a minimum wage equal to 1968? That’s supported, by the way, by 70 percent of the people, including Rick Santorum, and until last year, Mitt Romney. That’s how basic it is. So, we have a president saying in 2008, when he was campaigning, he wants $9.50 by 2011, and now he’s down to $9.00 by 2016. The Democrats are sitting on inadequate bills in the House and Senate and not really pushing the Republicans.
So, here’s what we’re trying to do. August is the big recess, where the members of Congress go back home. So we want people to get 300 to 400 signatures on a summons by the people back home, summoning the congresspeople and the senators to exclusive town meetings in each district. And those of you who are watching or listening to this program and want to show how to turn this around—it’s a great economic stimulus, by the way, to give people who desperately need the necessities of life more money—if you want to take 30 million people up to $10.50 an hour, which catches up barely with 1968, even though the worker productivity has doubled, by the way, since then, just go to timeforaraise.org. Remember, this is—if we cannot do this, it’s doubtful we can change anything in this country. Timeforaraise.org. You’ll get a “whereas … whereas … whereas …” very well done summons that you can go around and get people to sign—it will be the easiest petition you’ll probably ever get to sign—to the congressperson or the senator, saying, “In August, and in a municipal building or wherever, we want you to show up, and we’re going to let you know what we want you to do.” That’s why I called it a summons instead of a petition.
Amy Goodman: Let’s go to President Obama in February in his State of the Union address calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour from $7.25 and to automatically adjust it with inflation.
President Barack Obama: Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. We should be able to get that done. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank, rent or eviction, scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. And a whole lot of folks out there would probably need less help from government. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up, while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.
Amy Goodman: So that’s President Obama in February in his State of the Union address.
Ralph Nader: Yeah.
Amy Goodman: Isn’t that what you’re calling for?
Ralph Nader: Yeah, has there—has there been a bigger con man in the White House than Barack Obama? He hasn’t lifted a finger since he made those statements. And when he made the statements in the 2008 campaign, he said nothing for four years on raising the minimum wage. He made no pressure on Congress. He hasn’t even unleashed people in his own White House on this issue.
Amy Goodman: What can he do?
Ralph Nader: What can he do? He can barnstorm it. That’s what the bully pulpit is about. He can go up to Congress. He can get George Miller and Senator Harkin, who have introduced weak minimum wage increase bills, to have dynamic hearings where he puts a face on all these people who can’t even make as much as the workers made in 1968. Look at the difference here. There are a million Wal-Mart workers who are making less today than Wal-Mart workers made in 1968, inflation-adjusted, while the boss of Wal-Mart is making $11,000 an hour, you know, plus benefits. Two-thirds of all low-income workers are hired by these big companies, like McDonald’s and Burger King and Wal-Mart, and that the bosses are making anywhere from $10 million to $20 million a year.
Now, what does that do to the normative juices of the American people? I mean, where’s the indignation here? I mean, why do they take it? They don’t have to take it. They can hit the streets. They can march. They can turn this around. How come they hit the streets in these Third World countries? I mean, isn’t it important for their livelihood? They can’t even get the necessities of life for their children. The cruelty is unbelievable here. We are an advanced Third World country. We have great military equipment and science and technology. Half of the people in this country are poor. They can’t even pay their bills. They’re deep in debt. And so, people sitting around are saying, “Oh, the powers that be, you know, we can’t do anything.” What do you mean they can’t do anything? They can do everything. They’re the sovereign. We don’t have “We the corporation” at the beginning of the Constitution; we have “We the people.” So, timeforaraise.org. Let’s get it done in August. Let’s move. You’ll get a nice summons. You go around. You get your friends and neighbors. Bring that member back home in a town hall or wherever for an exclusive meeting on the minimum wage.
Amy Goodman: We’re going to break, then come back to Ralph Nader. His new book is called Told You So. Stay with us.
Amy Goodman: Our guest is Ralph Nader. Let’s go to a comment of the Apple CEO, Tim Cook, in response to a Senate report that accused his company of a massive tax-dodging scheme that saved it tens of billions of dollars. The report describes a massive web of affiliates spanning several continents that were used to hide the company’s profits, even in countries where Apple had no employees. Overall, Apple avoided paying U.S. taxes on $44 billion over a three-year period. This is Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking before the Senate hearing last month.
Tim Cook: Apple has become the largest corporate income taxpayer in America. Last year, our U.S. federal cash effective tax rate was 30.5 percent, and we paid nearly $6 billion in cash to the U.S. Treasury. That’s more than $16 million each day, and we expect to pay even more this year.
Amy Goodman: That was Apple CEO Tim Cook. Ralph Nader, your response?
Ralph Nader: It’s very simple. Apple has parked a huge percentage of its profits in tax havens abroad. So they can say the ones that they haven’t parked, in this country, pay a higher tax rate, basically. Apple is one of many giant U.S. corporations who benefited from subsidies by the government, research and development, grew to profit on the backs of American workers, and is now operating overseas, very unpatriotically, like other U.S. corporations, to be tax escapees. But they expect the government to give them the latest developments in science and technology, which have infiltrated themselves into Apple products. They expect all the public services that taxpayers pay for in this country. But they want to go to the Bahamas and Ireland and other tax havens and pile it up. In the meantime, they’re not investing these huge profits—Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Apple—they’re not investing in this country. So you have this amazing situation where you have a recession, you have very high unemployment, you have high underemployment, and you’ve got huge capital reserves piling up, not being taxed to be put back into building our public works and repairing America and creating jobs. And you’ve got, you know, a rump Congress just basically curtsying to all this.
So we’ve got a real problem here. It’s not too extreme to call our system of government now “American fascism.” It’s the control of government by big business, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt defined in 1938 as fascism. And they control the government and turn the government to their favor—subsidies, handouts, giveaways, deferred prosecutions, non-prosecutions—and against the American people. And minimum wage is just one. You have full Medicare for all, which a majority of doctors and the American people want, with free choice of doctor and hospital. That’s the only—we’re the only Western country that doesn’t have it. Eight hundred Americans a week die because they cannot afford diagnosis and treatment for their ailments. That’s 800 Americans a week, 45,000 a year. Who says so? A study, peer-reviewed, out of Harvard Medical School. So, we have the lowest minimum wage in the Western world. We have the greatest amount of consumer debt. We have the highest child poverty, the highest adult poverty, huge underemployment, a crumbling public works—but huge multi-billionaires and hugely profitable corporations.
I say to the American people: What’s your breaking point? When are you going to stop making excuses for yourself? When are you going to stop exaggerating these powers when you know you have the power in this country if you organize it? That’s why I want people to timeforaraise.org, get the summons, fill out the names, and get the congresspeople and the senators back in August.
Aaron Maté: Ralph, what do you think the U.S. government should do—President Obama, the Federal Reserve—to take on high unemployment?
Ralph Nader: Public works is obviously the best. I mean, we have trillions of dollars, according the American Society of Civil Engineers. It’s not just bridges and highways. It’s sewage and water systems. It’s public buildings. It’s dams. It’s ports. It’s community clinics. It’s libraries. The country is running down. And when I say big corporations are running the U.S.A. into the ground, that’s part of the dismal picture. Now, that creates jobs that are good-paying, they’re decentralized in every community, and you can’t export them to China. So that’s what the government should do.
But, of course, if President Obama cannot defeat the worst, cruelest, most vicious, ignorant Republican Party in history and take over the Congress—instead, he loses it in 2010 in the House, and he loses it in 2012 in the House, and he’s going to lose it again in 2014, because he doesn’t know how to take the Republican votes that are so cruel and vicious, that have actually passed the House of Representatives and have been documented by the House Democratic Caucus, and hurl it against them in the coming election. So what’s he going to do the rest of his term, if he’s being run by Boehner and Cantor and McConnell, the Republican minority?
Amy Goodman: Ralph Nader, you wrote an open letter to President Obama asking him to explain his—to explain by what authority he’s empowered to imprison prisoners indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay and kill people abroad with drone warfare.
Ralph Nader: Yeah, it’s really quite clear. President Obama is a recidivist violator, systematically, day after day, of Constitution, of our statutes and of our international treaties. We still have torture. We still have indefinite imprisonment. We still have war crimes all over part of Asia and Africa, violating all kinds of laws. These wars have never been declared by Congress. We have indefinite imprisonment. They use the word “detainee.” Don’t you like that word, “detainee”? You know, you’re in Guantánamo for nine years; you’re still a detainee instead of a prisoner. And the press uses their language, too.
So, we sent him a letter, with Bruce Fein, who now has started a group called the National Commission on the Misuse of Intelligence to Justify War—lies, in other words, cover-ups. These are the people who should be on trial, not Bradley Manning. The people who lied in official Washington—Bush and Cheney and Wolfowitz—who lied and caused the death of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of American injuries, those are the people who should be on trial. So, this letter goes right to the core. Every time Obama tries to say he’s doing this and that, he should give the constitutional, statutory or treaty authority. And the press has not been holding his feet to the fire, or his representatives. They should always ask, “By what authority are you doing this, Mr. President? And by what evidence? By what authority, and by what evidence?”
Amy Goodman: Finally, in the last 10 seconds we have, Frank Lautenberg, the longtime senator from New Jersey, just died. Your thoughts?
Ralph Nader: He has a marvelous record. You pointed out his record in environment and consumer. It’s going to be a real loss to the Senate.
Amy Goodman: Ralph Nader, I want to thank you for being with us. His new book, Told You So . He’ll be speaking at Barnes & Noble Wednesday night here in New York at Union Square. And I’ll be interviewing you at the 92nd Street Y Thursday night at 8:15. Hope to see people there.