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2000-07-07

Ralph Nader

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The Washington Post has a piece on the front page today saying that Al Gore’s presidential campaign is brushing aside concerns from the Democratic Party’s so-called liberal wing to write a platform affirming centrist stands on trade, education reform, debt reduction and foreign intervention. [includes rush transcript]

Under the proposed platform to be unveiled today, party officials said, Democrats would affirm the vice president’s support of free trade, lifting language from a New York speech declaring that "free and fair trade can help create high-paying jobs for America." That’s language that both in content and in tone is deeply opposed by major industrial unions.

Gore’s operatives from the campaign and within the Democratic National Committee have taken firm control of the platform-writing process and are determined to keep the party moving in the same direction. While the exact wording is yet to be determined, officials said the platform would defy key liberal interest groups on several controversial matters beyond trade and education policy.

The platform, for instance, will follow Gore’s stump speech on fiscal responsibility and reject efforts by many advocacy groups to use the growing budget surplus for a major injection of money into existing and new programs. Gore has called for a $500 billion, 10-year tax cut and a new prescription drug program, but he also calls for using other surplus funds on debt reduction.

Party officials said the platform will offer continued support for the death penalty.

Meanwhile, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader called this week for Democratic and Republican leaders to support efforts to provide the public easier access to voting records. In a letter he wrote to the Vice President, Nader called for placing a searchable database of Congressional votes on the Internet.

Guest:

  • Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate for President. Call: 202.265.4000.

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now, we’re going to turn to Ralph Nader. It’s very interesting today, Juan, the Washington Post has a front-page piece saying that Al Gore’s presidential campaign is brushing aside concerns from the Democratic Party’s so-called liberal wing to write a platform affirming centrist stands on trade, education reform, debt reduction and foreign intervention.

Under the proposed platform to be unveiled today, Democrats would affirm the Vice President’s support of free trade, lifting language from a New York speech declaring that "free and fair trade can help create high-paying jobs for America." That’s language that both in content and in tone is deeply opposed by major industrial unions.

The Washington Post goes on to say Gore’s operatives from the campaign and within the Democratic National Committee have taken firm control of the platform writing process and are determined to keep the party moving in the same direction.

While the exact wording is yet to be determined, officials say the platform would defy key liberal interest groups on several controversial matters beyond trade and education policy. The platform, for instance, will follow Gore’s stump speech on fiscal responsibility and reject efforts by many advocacy groups to use the growing budget surplus for a major injection of money into existing and new programs. Gore has called for a $500 billion ten-year tax cut and a new prescription drug program, but he also calls for using other surplus funds on debt reduction. Party officials said the platform will offer continued support for the death penalty.

Well, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader called this week for Democratic and Republican leaders to support efforts to provide the public easier access to voting records. In a letter he wrote to the Vice President, Nader called for placing a searchable database of congressional votes on the internet. And we’re going to talk with him about this and other issues. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ralph Nader.

RALPH NADER: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ralph, I’d like to begin — there have been some articles that have been coming out lately that say Gore is already responding to your candidacy in his stump speeches by attempting to appear more populist. But here we have the platform apparently being written in another direction. Could you comment on that?

RALPH NADER: Yes, I think what we’re seeing is a replay of Clinton in '92, with Gore mouthing some critical comments against oil industry gouging on gasoline prices and drug industry gouging on drug prices. It's all talk. It doesn’t mean anything. And people here in Washington know it’s all talk.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the internet and talk about what your proposals are?

RALPH NADER: Yes. You know, there’s an old saying: "When all is said and done, more is said than done." And Al Gore incessantly talks about connecting the country, the schools, other institutions, with the internet. He’s a gee-whiz person who talks about Silicon Valley with a kind of awed reverence.

So I decided to put his feet to the fire on this, and I sent a letter to Al Gore and George W. Bush and the leadership of the House and Senate of both parties and said, every member of Congress has a website, and no member of Congress, to my knowledge, puts on their website their voting records in a classifiable, understandable, retrievable way. In fact, all you see on these websites are the carefully channeled propaganda of the senators and representatives controlling the flow of information to the folks back home. And so, I asked all the presidential candidates and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate to join together and out of this presidential campaign produce a collateral benefit, other than just a winner, and urge Congress and urge every member of Congress to put their voting records on their website. That means back home, people, whether for civic purposes, press purposes, scholarship purposes, can tap into their computer and find out exactly what these members of Congress are doing, in contrast to what they’re saying they’re doing. And thus far, no answer.

And I don’t expect an answer from any of these people. They’re not interested in using technology for democratic purposes. They’re just interested in subsidizing technology, like huge research and development credits to vastly profitable technology companies, such as Microsoft, and further drain the Federal Treasury.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Are you saying that not a single member of Congress, not even the couple who call themselves Independents, responded to your letter?

RALPH NADER: Well, it’s a little too early for members of Congress to respond, but it wasn’t early for the campaign headquarters of Bush and Gore to respond. Now, Congressman Christopher Shays from Fairfield County in Connecticut, he will send you his voting record in a newsletter. And he’ll break it down, you know, environment, defense, etc. But there are only about three members of Congress that do that. I mean, this is an astonishing gap. If there’s any information that should be on a congressional website, that should be it. It isn’t just floor votes; it’s subcommittee votes, it’s committee votes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph, one of the big issues, obviously, that Al Gore has been raising is the whole question of a prescription drug plan. But there’s a report by Public Citizen that’s come out this week that says that the political donations by the drug industry has sharply risen, and from 1997 to 1999 the industry spent $235 million on lobbying at the federal level. Do you think — obviously, most of the giving is to the Republican candidates, but what’s been — what do you expect to be the impact of the pharmaceutical industry as the nation debates this whole question of a prescription drug plan?

RALPH NADER: It’s just the buying of the U.S. government. The drug companies play the usual game of funneling money into both party coffers. Look what they get in return: runaway drug prices that are gouging especially the elderly; drug prices that are higher than any country in the world, and some drugs double the price of Canada’s drug prices. These are the same drugs, by the same U.S. drug companies. And to top it off, they’re getting billions of dollars, as reported in the New York Times recently, in federal tax subsidies, not only in terms of regular tax subsidies, you know, the various loopholes we’re all accustomed to now for corporations, but a huge flow of already-discovered and developed and tested medicines through the National Institutes of Health, which are given away free to selected drug companies, like Taxol, the anti-cancer drug, was given away free to Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is now grossing over $1 billion a year on a drug that costs a patient anywhere from $14,000 to $16,000 for a series of treatments. That’s what they get for their money. They put a few million dollars in the coffers of presidential campaigns, senatorial and House campaigns, and they get billions of dollars back.

That’s why Will Rogers, many, many years ago, described Congress as the best money can buy. It’s time to put an end to it. And that’s what the Green Party agenda and my presidential campaign strives to do. People always say they’re fed up and they’re sick and tired of corrupt politicians, they’re sick and tired of government being captured by these big business lobbies and having government turned against its own people. Well, this is their chance to join this Green Party presidential effort and contact us on VoteNader.com, or VoteNader.org, our website, or phone us in Washington, (202) 265-4000, or send your contributions or your wishes to volunteer and to organize and to get out the vote right in your neighborhood, in your community, to: Nader 2000, PO Box 18002, Washington, D.C. 20036. It’s time for action, It really is time for action. Half of the people in this country don’t even vote. We always say this: How do we develop a political campaign where we appeal to the non-voters, the seventy-five to eighty million non-voters in presidential elections?

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, your campaign for the presidency is clearly shaking up the establishment. You had one of the harshest editorials there, was about you in the New York Times over the July 4th weekend. It began, "Ralph Nader’s long history of public service championing the causes of consumers, the environment, and economic justice automatically commands respect. But in running for president as the nominee of the Green Party, he is engaging in a self-indulgent exercise that will distract voters from the clear-cut choice represented by the major party candidates: Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush." It says "His candidacy will be especially harmful for Mr. Gore, the contender closest to Mr. Nader on the environment and other issues. This political reality casts doubt on Mr. Nader’s claim to be driven by policy differences, rather than ego." They printed your response on July 4th, perhaps the least-read newspaper of the year.

RALPH NADER: Well, that was a self-demeaning editorial. I know many Time reporters were aghast at it. It was internally illogical. On the one hand, they praised my work in these areas: consumer protection, good government, environment. On the other hand, they said that — observing, as they do in their own editorials, the corrupt political process that’s obstructing the civil society, obstructing citizen groups from having a chance, at least, to prevail or to shape public policy in Congress and the executive branch and the judiciary. Having recognized all that, then they say, "How dare you enter the political arena and clutter the playing the field?" They actually used the word "clutter" the playing field. This is an editorial that basically is establishing the case for a two-party duopoly having an entitlement against any competitors. Historically, that editorial is rebutted, and in contemporary scene it is a rebuttal of their own reporters and their own feature writers, who have documented, time after time, the corrupt political process and the excessive abuses of corporate power here in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we have to break for stations to identify themselves, but we hope you’ll stay with us for a few more minutes beyond the break, as we talk about a number of issues, including the presidential debates, and is it a done deal that you will be excluded from them? We are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! After our conversation with Ralph Nader, we’ll be joined by the Rev. Al Sharpton to talk about the recent death of a young Mississippi teen. Was he lynched? And also, a security guard’s killing of a man, a black man, in a Michigan mall. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonazalez.

RALPH NADER: You can build this party, as you join it and participate in it. You can build this party as a fresh — as a fresh green plant pushing up between the two fossil parties that have no grassroots base at all, parties built on business cash, driven by business cash, fueled by business cash, animated by business cash, so that they are more and more remote from the American people and engage mostly in campaigning against one another through thirty-second electronic ad combat and exclusive presidential debates.

AMY GOODMAN: Green Party candidate for president, Ralph Nader, in his acceptance speech at the Denver convention of the Green Party last week. You are listening to Democracy Now!, and Ralph Nader joins us on the telephone. Ralph Nader, at that convention there were a few people from the Reform Party who were endorsing your presidential candidacy. How are you different from Pat Buchanan?

RALPH NADER: Well, very, very different. I believe, for example, in repealing restrictive labor laws like Taft-Hartley and enacting laws that facilitate the organization of trade unions. Membership in trade unions in our private economy is lowest in sixty years; it’s under 10%. That explains a lot why forty-seven million American workers, over one-third of the work force, makes less than $10 an hour, many of them five and a quarter, six, seven, eight — not a livable wage.

I don’t see Pat Buchanan talking much about consumer protection, cracking down on the enormous patterns of fraud in the insurance, banking, HMO, automobile areas that are depleting family budgets. I don’t see him talking about the structure of corporate power and how we have to have a new concept of making the chartering of corporations an accountable mechanism. He doesn’t really talk much about universal health insurance, accessible, with an emphasis on prevention. He doesn’t like regulation. He’s not really talking much about the tax inequities, where the rich and the corporate get away with it, and the middle class has to pay a higher percentage of the tax burden. There are a lot of differences, I think.

I think he’s more against globalization, period. I think we have to have civic globalization, civic institutions across national boundaries, governments that deal with such issues as global infectious diseases and the military arms trade. So there really are a lot of differences.

But, you know, he and I are critical of the sovereignty-depleting aspects of WTO and NAFTA, and he’s speaking out on that and maybe having an effect on the Republican Party, certainly part of it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You know, Ralph, in the same week that the Times blasted your candidacy, they lauded the victory of Vicente Fox in Mexico. Of course, Fox’s victory could only come as result of a three-party race, because he did not get anywhere near a majority of the votes in Mexico, and the first thing he did as the supposed conservative candidate in the race when he won was say that he wants to start renegotiating aspects of NAFTA and also immigration policy. He believes that there’s got to be much more labor and environmental protection and also that it’s contradictory for our government to press for reducing the barriers to capital while erecting more and more barriers to laborers [inaudible] cross the borders. Your comment about this whole issue of immigration and free trade?

RALPH NADER: Juan, I think it’s going to be trouble from the new president on this area in Mexico. There is such a thing as reducing tariff barriers and having freer trade between nations. But when you allow $7-a-day Mexican truck drivers to cross the border and drive their cars, their trucks, anywhere in the fifty states with their cargo, you are having these truck drivers compete against American truck drivers who are making $15, $20, $25 an hour, not $7 a day. That’s not only a prescription for violence on the highways; it’s an outrage.

I just wrote a column, satiric, saying that the New York Times today announced that in order to meet the global competition, it decided to replace its columnists Tom Friedman and Paul Krugman with two brilliant bilingual Chinese columnists who worked with the Chinese Beijing daily newspaper, and that the Mexican Chamber of Commerce chief decided to bid for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce job here in Washington at one-tenth the salary of Tom Donohue. Maybe that will bring it home.

This is international trade run riot. You can’t allow this. Let me tell you. Would we ever allow one state to drive down its wages in order to compete with other states? Why do we allow a neighboring country to do that under NAFTA? And we’ve really got to come to grips with this. These are politicians who just are completely remote from blue-collar workers. I think the United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, the Teamsters are right in making themselves scarce to Al Gore and not endorsing him yet, because we have to have a major hand on a debate on this.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking about debates, Ralph Nader, what about how the presidential debates will operate, and is it a done deal that you will be excluded from them?

RALPH NADER: Well, that’s the name of the two-party system; it’s exclusion. They exclude third parties with huge electoral ballot hurdles, like huge numbers of signatures and all kinds of harassment to third parties getting their candidates on the ballot, such as in North Carolina or Indiana or Illinois, and the debates are just extension of that, Amy.

But I think public opinion is starting to effect the debate commission. An advisor to Gore recently on Crossfire apparently said he would have no objection to one four-way debate. A majority of the people polled want me and Buchanan on the debates, and that’s only going to grow. And I think we’re going to see more and more public opinion pressure to at least have one of the debates be a four-way debate.

I mean, what are the Democrats and Republicans afraid of? Are they afraid of new ideas? Are they afraid of alternative proposals to solve the problems in this country with solutions that are ready to go, that are on the shelf, but are blocked by corporate-governmental power?

Not only that, I think there are other ways to get debates. If the major Hispanic groups in Southern California got together and in effect summoned the presidential candidates, I don’t think Bush and Gore could ignore it, because they are both bidding ferociously for the Hispanic vote. The same is true for blue-collar unions in the Midwest, if they sponsored their own debates.

So we’ve got to get around this cul-de-sac of the Republicrat debate commission, and break its monopoly. It’s a disgrace to the pretensions of our democratic society that we allow the major discussion of future presidential policymaking to be monopolized by this debate commission.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, you recently put in your FEC filing, the Federal Election Commission filing, which indicated you have about $4 million in personal wealth and invest in a number of companies like, for example, Cisco, the Internet company. Can you talk about that?

RALPH NADER: Yes, you have to have resources to fight these big business lobbyists. And the reason why we’ve been able to do this for thirty-some years is we’re very prudent in our fundraising, we’re very frugal, and we have a reserve. No presidential candidate devotes over 80% of his earnings to civic action projects, to the foundations that pursue social justice, to creating new citizen groups, as I have. And that’s why money is important. Money is very uninteresting to me; it doesn’t mean anything to me, other than to support programs in the advancement of justice. And most of the reserve is in money-market funds. A few are in technology companies that are relatively neutral, compared to other companies that could be invested in.

AMY GOODMAN: Although, for example, Cisco has a lot to gain with the opening up of China and, in many ways, lobbies against positions you lobby for.

RALPH NADER: Well, that’s an interesting point. I have opposed a lot of Cisco and Silicon Valley’s policies in recent years, and that’s a conflict against financial interest. Perhaps I’m trying to make that point, that those of us who are possessed of these funds should pursue policies frequently that are against our financial interest, because there’s a higher and more important issue at stake.

AMY GOODMAN: Another issue that maybe a lot of people don’t know about you, your background, is that you’re a Lebanese American. And I was wondering how that shapes your view of foreign policy, I mean, next week we’re going to see a Middle East summit taking place that President Clinton is going to be presiding over. But your take on the Middle East peace process?

RALPH NADER: Well, it’s got to be fostered, like any peace process. It’s got to recognize issues of justice affecting the Palestinian people. It’s got to focus on democratic processes in all these countries in the Middle East. It’s got to reflect a foreign policy that doesn’t side with dictators and oligarchs, but sides with workers and peasants. It’s got to reflect a foreign policy that treats the most fundamental needs of people in terms of land reform, in terms of healthcare, in terms of education.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Iraq sanctions? Where do you stand on the US-UN sanctions against Iraq?

RALPH NADER: End them immediately. This is probably the most contemporary criminal behavior of the United States and the UN abroad. 5,000 Iraqi children are dying every month. The dual list for embargo bans, for example, child catheters. It bans kidney dialysis machines, on the theory that they might be used for military purposes. All the sales of oil by Iraq are put in a UN bank account. Everything is expended under UN control.

If the purpose of these sanctions is to destabilize Iraq’s dictator, it’s doing just the opposite. The way you give a dictator more oppressive powers is to attack innocent people in the dictator’s country, which is what the sanctions do.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, finally, your view on the death penalty? All the other candidates, as far as I know, who are running are in favor of it. What’s your perspective on the death penalty?

RALPH NADER: Since I was a law student in the 1950s at Harvard Law School, it does not deter. It is implemented in a way that is extremely discriminatory, especially against poor and minorities. It has to be a perfect system and not execute one innocent people — one innocent person, and that’s nothing that can be substantiated. It also involves almost a destruction of any sense of criminal defense. These people are not given adequate lawyers. They are not given automatic DNA tests. They are exposed to basically a powerful prosecution, oftentimes without adequate defense, without adequate reporting, and for those who are interested, it’s cheaper to put somebody in jail for life without parole than to pursue a capital crimes case with an execution as its objective.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, on the issue of the death penalty, when Shaka Sankofa, Gary Graham, was executed in Texas that day, and those days leading up to it, there was a lot of press attention, tremendous activism around the country to stop his execution, the case based on the testimony of one eyewitness. Other eyewitnesses in the murder trial were not brought forward by a very incompetent defense that he had.

George Bush, of course, presided over the execution, has presided over more executions than any governor in U.S. history. When Al Gore was asked about the case that day, he said he’s for the death penalty. While you say you’re against the death penalty, what about taking a proactive stance? Many criticize you for not, for example, going to Huntsville, to making this a major part of your platform and bringing in people of color into your campaign, being more inclusive, these kinds of issues, bringing in more people, since a disproportionate number of people on death row and in prisons are black and Latino.

RALPH NADER: Well, no other presidential candidate has taken a stand against the death penalty. I want to distinguish that we need to focus on corporate charters and criminally behaving corporations and pull their charter. That’s called often the corporate death penalty. We have an extremely detailed platform to deal with urban and rural poverty and to start enforcing the law against the rapacious and predatory impacts, whether it’s lending or health, lack of healthcare, or other brutalization of poor and minority peoples in the country.

I’ve campaigned in fifty states, Amy, since March 1st. You can’t be in ten places at once, unless you’re a corporation, that is. We are going to emphasize very much the issues of poverty, that there is twenty-plus percent child poverty in this country, highest by far in the Western world at a time of ten years of economic growth. And, by the way, in California, child poverty was 15% in 1980. California’s economy has been booming. You know what it is today? 25.2% child poverty, and that’s real poverty. That’s not just some theoretical construct by the Department of Labor.

JUAN GONZALEZ: To go back to foreign policy, the U.S. involvement in the war in Yugoslavia and these so-called humanitarian interventions that our nation, along with NATO and other chosen allies, gets involved in, what’s your stand on that, on these interventions?

RALPH NADER: They tend to be botched. When you don’t have preventive diplomacy, preventive defense, and when you don’t act properly early enough, then you get all kinds of complications, slap-dash interventions, untrained troops, conflict between different troops speaking different languages.

What we need is to declare as a foreign policy that nonviolence is the top priority, and we define violence not just in terms of preventing war but in actively waging peace, and that means that we spend resources on waging peace. We use some of these intelligence agencies’ budget for anticipating these kinds of conflicts, such as between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which was a completely preventable, hugely bloodshed war. And that means having a multilateral peace force not dominated by the U.S., well trained ahead of any of the conflicts, well trained and ready by certain criteria to prevent such slaughters as 600,000 Rwandans or the slaughter in Yugoslavia. Obviously, this requires very, very careful international corporate cooperation. But we’ve got to do it in a much more deliberate, far-sighted, preventive manner than at the present time. And we shouldn’t dominate it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end by going back to that issue that people are talking about around the country who would support you, but concerned about what it would mean in the race between Gore and Bush. What is your response to that?

RALPH NADER: Well, if you’re really pleasantly responding to the Democrat and Republican record over the years, you’re free to vote for them. But if you stay home, and you don’t vote, as a half of the people don’t, out of revulsion or a feeling that their vote doesn’t count, doesn’t matter, then go for a new political party that emphasizes clean politics, gets rid of the dirty money in campaigns and fosters in many-dimensional manners clean communities and healthy environments and healthy people. That’s what you have. You have your choice now.

I get a little tired of hearing all over the country ordinary folks bitterly complaining about their government, and then when they have a chance to start a new progressive political movement, they say, "Oh, oh, no. One party is not quite as bad as the other — Democrat-Republican. We’ve got to go with the least of the worst." When you go with the least of the worst, you’re giving your vote to a downward pattern of two-party politics that are becoming more and more alike, and more and more resistant to any kind of democratic — small "d" — accountability. So, you’ve got your choice, and I don’t think non-voters have any excuses anymore. If they’re looking for a clean progressive political movement that they can help build, they’ve got one in the Green Party presidential candidacies at the local, state and national level.

And I might add again, if you want to log-in to our website, it’s VoteNader.org or VoteNader.com, and let’s hear from you. And if you want us on the debates, let’s hear from you. We’ll multiply your input to break through this gated political community called the Republicrat two-party duopoly, essentially one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup. The country deserves better.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate for president, thanks for being with us.

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