To the younger among us who perhaps have never heard of this man, I want to introduce a great beacon of light in America who has been smeared very thoroughly out of the public consciousness. We owe him things like the Freedom of Information Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Clean Water Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (safety standards for motor vehicles and road traffic safety). In his lifelong fight for the people he evidently has saved thousands upon thousands of lives, and without him we would have a far worse America (if you can imagine that) than we have now. This most amazing of American activists is none other than Ralph Nader.
By the early 1970s Nader had become a household name, and suggestions arose that he should run for president. Yet, when he finally agreed to run for president in 2000 because his public interest groups could no longer get hearings in Bill Clinton’s Washington, our establishment smeared, defamed, (and even sued!) him so massively that I fear many of the younger folks, especially the millennials on whom many of our hopes now rest, have never heard of him. And many of us who still know of him may see him in the false light of those smears propagated across the corporate media. The “Democratic” Party arm of our duopoly branded him as the “spoiler” who gave us the Bush-Cheney regime (something Jeb Bush’s Florida election fraud, the Supreme Court’s unconstitutional halting of the Florida vote recount, and Al Gore’s own lame campaign and refusal to challenge the election fraud are far more responsible for than any of the third-party or independent candidates who ran for president that year), just as they have been trying to smear Bernie Sanders since last year for allegedly giving us Trump. (my latest Video Weekend post has more on this)
Last Saturday, I gave everybody a small taste of Ralf Nader, but he merits way more attention. Here, then, is a magnificent speech of his well worth watching:
(Note: if the video linked above gets deleted, you may search the Internet for the title: “Ralph Nader on inequality in the United States “)
Nader: “Fifty percent of Canadians now make less than Canadians made in the late seventies, inflation-adjusted. And, in the United States, it’s about eighty percent! [… Unemployment, underemployment, disappearing pensions. …] The top 1% of wealthy people in the U.S. have as much as the bottom 95%. [We have] kids with rickets — they are so nutritionally deprived. Every week, 800 [Americans] die because they can’t afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated. According to OSHA, there are 60,000 workplace related deaths and injuries from trauma and disease each year. That’s over 1000 a week! And there are 100,000 people who die from hospital malpractice, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. And, [according to the EPA,] 60,000 Americans die every year from air pollution, about half of them from coal burning.” (Note: A newer (2013) MIT Study, has raised the number to 200,000 dying each year from air pollution.)
History shows that, ever since we left behind the fairness and equality in the tribal living of our hunter and gatherer ancestors, there were always a 1% of people holding most of the power and wealth, which leads us to the sad recognition that there is an element of collaboration with this injustice by the rest of us. Otherwise the kings and queens, dukes and barons, billionaires, corrupt CEOs and politicians would never be able to establish and maintain such inequality. Nader talked about this, as well:
“Every society ever studied in the world has its 1%. It is cross-cultural, cross-religious, cross-ethnic. You go anywhere in the world, and 1% of the people have most of the power ([except, dictatorships have even less]). It is something all human populations have to struggle against. … That’s why we have to go to origins. … I submit, that’s where the problems of inequality begin. They begin by permissive acceptance – by those who are victimized – of growing inequality. Otherwise, the perpetrators couldn’t get to first base.”
Dictators and oligarchs, Nader says, have a different set of incentives: greed, lust for power, and fear of loss or retaliation. Their fear fuels more desire for power and control. And when these motives collide with the civic values held by our societies, the despots must carefully plan and organize since they are so vastly outnumbered. On the other hand, the rest of the people lack organization to put their values into place. To neutralize us even more, the despots disorganize us even more by dividing us from the top. In the schools, our children are taught to memorize instead of think. They aren’t taught about the great dissenters. They are instead taught about generals and presidents, kings, and queens — in other words the people who used force. They are taught that Columbus discovered America, rather than invaded it.
Daycare, Nader said, costs $400 a week in many cities. Think about this for a moment. A lot of Americans don’t earn more than this in a full-time job. So, one of the parents in a family may waste most of their time, five days a week, at a job which pays for the daycare that only becomes necessary because this job prevents them from staying home with their kids — all merely to have health insurance for the family when the other spouse gets no health insurance from his or her job, or in order to not drop out of the job market and find it impossible to re-enter it once the kids are old enough not to require adult care all day anymore. Or, sometimes, the tiny bit of surplus earned over the daycare expense makes a necessary difference in the family budget, like the electric bill or the latest price hike in rents. If we had Medicare for All and a less hostile labor market and maybe such a thing as universal basic income and/or government compensation for self-parenting or in-home care of our elderly relatives, much of this insanity wouldn’t happen. It reminds me of how we ship foods, that our local farmers could grow, from across the world, so that big, government-subsidized agricultural corporations can carpet much of our arable land with corn and soybeans with the exports of which to flood other nations’ economies and, for example, ruin the family farms in places like Mexico causing a mass migration of impoverished Mexicans north to pick our strawberries and melons for starvation wages and then see their kids being deported from the only country they have ever known (DACA repeal) as many of our own corporate-stiffed workers fall for the lies that undocumented immigrants rather than corrupt CEOs and politicians are responsible for their own job and wage losses. Lots of waste, environmental destruction (including soil depletion), and untold human misery for millions and millions of people, both at home and abroad, only to make a handful of robber billionaires a little richer. Does anybody besides me smell a rat in this?
Back to Nader’s speech:
Nader: “If you don’t have time for democracy, you’re gonna be busier than ever on other things that you don’t like to do. Misery, anxiety, poverty, deprivation, and make-work are the consequences of injustice. And if you don’t cultivate a sense of injustice at a young age, you will not have a cultivated sense of justice. And if you don’t have a cultivated sense of justice, you cannot build a democratic society. … All [our] children [in school and exposed to our mass media] are bring robotized into immorality at best, and into indifference in the face of raw brutality and coarseness at worst.”
For me, the juxtaposition between a sense of injustice and a sense of justice was a bit weird at first, since – in my mind – justice and injustice are just different points on a sliding scale, but it makes sense to me when I interpret this statement as a warning that, if we don’t cultivate a keen sensitivity for even small wrongs, we fail to oppose the beginnings of a slippery slope that ends up destroying most or all justice in a society.
Nader moved on to the important point that awareness of our problems and dreams of a better world, including policies to fix it, or not enough. We also need tactics and strategy: “We need the right policy. We also need the right practice of how to get it done. Once we got the right policy done, the feedback will get you a better policy. It’s called empirical nourishment, replacing empirical starvation.” Then he reminded us of how thoroughly corporate-controlled we have become: “Corporations are raising our children, pumping junk food and junk drinks into them, turning their tongues against their brains and the children against their parents [making them buy junk]. Corporate ads get prizes on Madison Avenue based on their high ‘nag factor.’ This is electronic child molestation. We have all been corporate-raised.”
Well, my corporate-raised fellows, I have once again shared with you some food for thought. I leave you to mull some of this over.
Follow-up: Interview with a Legend
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