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2004-12-14

Ralph Nader on the Ohio Recount, Bush’s Cabinet Reshuffle and the White House "Lowballing" of U.S. Casualties in Iraq

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As the Ohio delegation to the Electoral College cast its votes for President Bush despite calls for a review of voting irregularities, we speak with independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader about the Ohio recount, the future of the Democratic Party, the reshuffling of Bush’s cabinet, the occupation of Iraq and much more. [includes rush transcript]

The Ohio delegation to the Electoral College cast its votes for President Bush on Monday, but not before a coalition of groups asked the state Supreme Court to review the outcome of the state’s presidential race.

The challengers, led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, cited widespread allegations of voting irregularities, voter suppression and fraud in Ohio on Nov. 2nd and questioned whether President Bush won the key swing state by 119,000 votes as certified by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell last week.

The court did not act on the request before the ballots were cast yesterday and the 20 GOP electors voted unanimously for Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. If the court decides to hear the challenge, it can declare a new winner or throw out the results.

Third party candidates, David Cobb of the Green Party and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party are paying for recounts in each of Ohio’s 88 counties that will begin this week.

Blackwell spoke to reporters inside the Ohio statehouse yesterday about the recount.

  • Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio Secretary of state speaking to reporters, December 13, 2004.

Independent candidate Ralph Nader was ready to initiate a recount in Ohio in the days following the election but could not, since only candidates appearing on the Ohio ballot have legal standing to do so. Nader was blocked from appearing on the ballot in Ohio by Democratic Party efforts. Nader did successfully seek a recount in New Hampshire in precincts where Diebold voting machines were used.

  • * Ralph Nader*, 2004 independent presidential candidate. His new book is called "The Good Fight : Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap by Ralph Nader."

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Blackwell spoke to reporters inside the Ohio State House yesterday about the recount.

KENNETH BLACKWELL: It is the generosity of Ohio law that allows them to request this recount; and we are in fact are going to abide by Ohio law and give them that recount. Now, no matter how much they protest, no matter how many lawsuits they file, I have the fullest of confidence in the integrity of our system.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell of Ohio, speaking with reporters. Independent candidate, Ralph Nader, was ready to initiate a recount in Ohio in the days following the election but couldn’t, since only candidates appearing on the Ohio ballot have legal standing to do so. Ralph Nader was blocked from appearing on the ballot in Ohio by Democratic party efforts. Nader did successfully seek a recount in New Hampshire in precincts where Diebold voting machines were used, and he joins us in Washington studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ralph Nader.

RALPH NADER: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. First, can you comment on the electoral college vote in Ohio?

RALPH NADER: Well, there were a lot of irregularities, but most of them so far occurred before election day. This was a Katherine Harris production by Kenneth Blackwell, to depress the minority vote or the vote in heavily Democratic areas. One of the most notable ways was to reduce the number of voting machines in areas where there were heavy minority, pro-Democrat voters. We pointed all this out to Kerry-Edwards a few days after the election, chiding them for conceding too early and running out the back door and ignoring their repeated promise during the campaign that they were going to make sure every vote was going to be counted. So, it’s good that there’s going to be recount. How rigorous and fair it is and how upstanding the courts will be remain to be seen. The Ohio Supreme Court, notably in our case, ignored a clear U.S. Supreme Court decision in Pennsylvania that had exact parallels in Ohio to keep us off the ballot, so it’s not very hopeful from the judicial point of view; but it’s important that the coalition do what it’s doing.

AMY GOODMAN: You had a strange situation at night, election night, when John Edwards came out and said: "Don’t worry, every vote will be counted, be patient," and then hours later, the same John Edwards coming out, this time with John Kerry, conceding the election without many more votes counted. There is reports that there was a major split between them that morning — of the morning after. What about that, Ralph Nader?

RALPH NADER: Yeah. My understanding is that John Edwards didn’t want to concede that quickly, and there was a argument of sorts before the one o’clock concession on November third about raising the issue of every vote being counted, especially in Ohio. But the consultants to Kerry prevailed. I guess they didn’t want him to appear to sour grapes or appear that he wasn’t going out in a classy way.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about how the media now deals with this issue? Very much the media, you know, expressing the spectrum between the Democrats and the Republicans, but when the Democrats agree with the Republicans, then the media doesn’t pursue things further. They very quickly — The New York Times had a major piece on the conspiracy theories around any kind of electoral fraud. Your comment on that.

RALPH NADER: Yes, well, the media — the general media will not move on this until the Democratic Party takes a strong role. Kerry did send some observers in there. The party, the D.N.C., did file along with the coalition in one of the legal proceedings; but the media has made up its mind that there’s nothing there. They don’t know what they don’t know. I mean, nobody knows what’s there. That’s why there’s going to be a recount. There are very sufficient, probative irregularities that occurred before, during the election that warrant a recall. Some of those are described on our website, votenader.org which is trying to keep up with this recount situation. Others are reflected in John Conyers’ recent hearing on Capitol Hill, which was blacked out by the mass media. This is so far more an independent media focus.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what happened in New Hampshire, and where did you get a recount?

RALPH NADER: Well, we got a recount in a few wards in New Hampshire, which came out okay. New Hampshire has a Secretary of State that’s been there for many years, very non-partisan, very professional. And they have a paper trail. And one of the things that we proved in New Hampshire as — people who want more detail can go to our web site votenader.org — is that the system worked there because there was a paper trail. But in Maryland and other states where there was not a paper trail, there’s no way to make that kind of quick parallel connections.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s possible that John Kerry won? I mean, with reports in Ohio, for example, one precinct having 638 voters, about 4,000 votes going to Bush in that case and another when they were counting them at the end of the day, the county commissioner locking down, not allowing any observers, and when they were criticized over the next few days, she ended up saying that Department of Homeland Security and F.B.I. had approached her right before the election and said there was a 'number ten national security threat in the area,' and so she said she thought she responded appropriately. The F.B.I. and Homeland Security then said they never made this call or they had never sent an agent to approach them.

RALPH NADER: Well, in addition to examples like that, and there were 52,000 votes more than there were voters in Cuyahoga County, which was automatically corrected, so that’s not — That’s just probative of a climate that there’s something there: A very partisan Secretary of State (sort of a Katherine Harris wannabe), a Republican legislature, a Republican governor. The stakes were enormous. You have 11,500 precincts, ten vote a precinct on the average. Anything is possible with an honest recount.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about what’s happening with the Democratic Party right now, and who will become head of it. I wanted to turn to Howard Dean, a clip of what he had to say as he runs to head up the Democratic Party.

HOWARD DEAN: Here in Washington, it seems that every time we lose an election, there’s a consensus reached among decision-makers in the Democratic Party that the way to win is to be more like Republicans. I suppose you could call that a philosophy, and this is the name of that philosophy: If you don’t beat them, then join them. I’m not going to make a prediction, but if we accept that philosophy this time around, then four years from now another Democrat will be standing right here, giving the same speech. We cannot win by being Republican-lite. We’ve tried it. It does not work.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Dean. Your response, Ralph Nader.

RALPH NADER: Well, it’s a mixed response. I mean, he’s quite right in what he says, but he spent the last few months being the hatchet man trying to get us off the ballot, one of the people that the Democratic party assigned, and that’s the way he restored his credentials with the established Democratic Party. That cost us over a million dollars and we’re still in debt on this, and as you can see from our website, votenader.org, we’re trying to offer memorabilia and other ways to get out of debt, because they violated our civil liberties, something that will be a more compelling issue in the coming months. The idea of the Democrats saying every vote should be counted, but there are certain candidates that are not going to be allowed on the ballot if we can hire enough corporate Republican law firms and harass them and file phony lawsuits. He was all part of that. But, just hearing what he has to say, he’s right on. And the established Democratic Party now is getting ready again to gang up on Howard Dean and defeat him for the D.N.C. chair, just the way they ganged up on him in the primary. This is not a party in decay, Amy. This is a decadent party. A decaying party ends up going out of the way. It’s replaced. A decadent party remains, loss after loss, after loss, for the last ten years at the local, state and national level, to the worst of the Republican Party. And there’s no major insurgency, except what is attempted by Howard Dean. And my prediction is that he’s simply not going to make it. There’s going to be another bland, monetized mind running the D.N.C. and curtsying to the Democratic Leadership Council, which is really the corporate Democrats that have run this party into the ground over the last decade.

AMY GOODMAN:We’re talking to independent, Ralph Nader. We’re going to go to a break and then come back with him.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Ralph Nader, joining us in Washington, D.C. Ralph ran for president in this election. Now the election is over. Just to clarify did you say that you think it is possible John Kerry might have won? I mean —

RALPH NADER: In Ohio, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: In general?

RALPH NADER: No. I mean, nobody knows, but there’s so many suspicious situations, so many gigantic mistakes that were made in a number of precincts which were corrected to warrant looking at the other 11,000-plus precincts. But worse than that, of course, is that Secretary Blackwell, who is a republican, tried to discourage registration forms from being accepted, when the Cleveland Plain Dealer recommended that people fill out a coupon in the newspaper. He said that wasn’t thick enough paper. There were just a lot of things that he did before the election that he’s going to get away with because doing these kinds of shenanigans by the Secretary of State is considered politics. The republicans are in control in some states, democrats control the others. It’s not considered the Constitutional crime that it really is. So a lot of the damage, Amy, was done before election day. That’s not going to be recovered with a recount, but there certainly is enough evidence, certainly enough eyewitness accounts, as Harvey Wasserman has pointed out and others in his daily dispatches, to warrant a recount, and that recount will occur, but it has got to occur under vigilance.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, right now the nominees of President Bush and also the agenda around issues like Social Security and where the democrats stand.

RALPH NADER: Well, I don’t know where some of them stand. They’re not coming back fighting except Harry Reid, the new minority leader for the democrats in the Senate from Nevada, very clearly took a stand on Social Security. That was very refreshing. But Mrs. Pelosi, for example, Nancy Pelosi, she says, well, it’s tough that I have to be on the table. You don’t deal that way with Social Security. There is no crisis in Social Security. It’s absolutely solvent until 2052, according to the Social Security trustees, who are pretty conservative. The slightest changes can continue it on for the rest of the century. Medicare is the one with sky rocketing corporate health costs that is in trouble. But Wall Street and the republicans and the ideologues, including George W. Bush, have got their eyes on these private accounts. That’s the first way to undermine Social Security, to weaken its ability to respond to the post-baby boomers, and to pour that money into Wall Street. The democrats just have to all get together in Congress and have a bright line where they say to the republicans, "You’re not getting across this line. We’re going to block you on this, this, and this, and we’re going to have our own proposals for living wage; for universal health care; for how to get out of Iraq; for a systematic adequately budgeted crackdown on corporate crime, fraud and abuse; for the conversion of our country into solar and renewable energy…" A lot of the things which I tried to point out in my new book, The Good Fight, which is designed to say that the issue in politics today is — the central issue is the concentration of corporate power. Too much corporate power over too many of our institutions, from elections to government to universities to childhood. That’s where the democrats have to stand, and that’s where they can win. Too much corporate power, something recognized even by BusinessWeek magazine and many others in the business press that have been chronicling this overwhelming epidemic of corporate abuse.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Carlos Gutierrez, head of commerce, now Mike Leavitt moving over from E.P.A. to head Department of Health and Human Services, a Utah Mormon, fiercely anti-choice. It might not have been as relevant head the Environmental Protection Agency, but certainly when it comes to H.H.S.

RALPH NADER: This is bringing crony cabinets to a new level of unprecedented intensity. I think Bush, of course, never admits to a mistake. Bush has never met with an anti-war group in the Iraq invasion, before, during or after. 13 of them from the National Council of Churches to veterans to former intelligence officials to peace groups all tried to meet with him before the invasion. He turned them down. Now he’s placing all of his cronies in all of these cabinet positions because he doesn’t want candid commentary and candid advice. This is a closed-mind messianic militarist, who can be vulnerable politically, if you had a steadfast Democratic Party who knew what it stood for. Because the old story, refusing to bend, he broke, will apply to Bush in politics, because he is setting himself up for being advised by sycophants. This is like a royal court, being advised by sycophants. But the democrats have got to begin to develop their public policy, otherwise they’re going to continue to lose and lose, as they abandon whole regions in the country that they call red states, one of the most mischievous notions in political circles.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, you wrote an open letter to President Bush regarding the destruction of Fallujah mosques, and have also written a letter about the state of the anti-war movement in this country. Can you comment on both?

RALPH NADER: Yes. I mean, first of all, Bush is deliberately low-balling U.S. casualties. If there are injuries in non-combat situations, even though it’s hostile territory in Iraq, large numbers of diseases like sandfly disease, severe mental trauma, none of these are mentioned. So, the actual injured casualty toll, if you include diseases is more than triple the official amount. And I have been going after the White House for six-seven months on this; there’s been no response. I sent it to the Kerry campaign saying that you should run with this. No response. The media — White House media is not asking these questions. You ought to go down once in a while and be part of that White House media, Amy. Teach them how to ask some tough questions. As far as the mosques are concerned, Bush keeps saying he wants to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Yes, the mosques have been used as base for resistance in more than a few instances, but if you win the tactic by destroying the mosque, and you lose the strategy, it’s like winning the battle and losing the war. With all of his messianic statements, a lot of Muslims believe that this is a religious war against them. Half of the mosques in Fallujah, which is known as the City of Mosques, were destroyed or badly damaged, and now soldiers are running into major mosques, such as one in Baghdad, looking for suspects, and they did at one right after prayer time on a Friday, very recently, for which the U.S. military mildly apologized. But I basically asked Bush, what is your position here? Where are your guidelines? Where are your rules? So you don’t further inflame the very people that you are trying to persuade to be on your side. But this is all part of Bush’s so-called war on terrorism, which is you pursue it in a way like invading Iraq that will produce more terrorists and more terrorism, endangering America in ways that the republicans — the democrats and John Kerry decline to point out in their insufferable obeisance to the wartime president.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting —

RALPH NADER: This will be elaborated further. I think the anti-war movement went on hibernation because of anybody-but-Bush syndrome for a year, and severely weakened itself. It needs to reassert itself.

AMY GOODMAN: In the last few days, the news headlines, they have said that ten U.S. Marines have died in the al Anbar province. That’s unusual. They usually say where. Of course, Fallujah is right there. What do you think of this fact that we’re getting less and less information right now?

RALPH NADER: Well, I think the military over there has been interviewed by people, members of Congress and one of them came back and said, not one of the military officers said that the U.S. was winning over there. So, obviously, there’s a sugar-coating going on, as occurred in the Vietnam War, that needs to be explored. I mean, the best scenario for Bush now is a puppet regime with candidates who are pre-cleared for running for the elections in January. They have to have good character, not have been involved in any disruptive activity, and had a certain level of education, which is obviously so discretional — discretionary that it’s like a pre-selection process for a puppet regime, with the oil industry in control of their basic natural resource. This is not a prescription for a peaceful transition. It’s not a prescription for any kind of modest, democratic society. Of course, that’s one reason why the Iraq insurgency is growing. There’s simply not enough attention on Paul Bremer’s 100 dictatorial decrees that he left behind, including extending Saddam Hussein’s ban on workers forming trade unions for which they can be arrested and put in jail and have been under the occupation when they were demonstrating. There’s a long tradition of oil industry workers in trade unions before Saddam Hussein, and now his decree, this dictator’s decree, was extended by Paul Bremer’s dictatorial decrees. I would urge people to look up these Bremer decrees, and just see what a puppet regime is going to inherit and will be unable to change if there is an election in January.

AMY GOODMAN: Today Paul Bremer, George Tenet and Tommy Franks are all being awarded the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Freedom by President Bush. Finally, speaking of presidents, are you going to run for president in 2008, Ralph Nader?

RALPH NADER: I don’t know. I do know that there has got to be more voices and choices. The two-party system has got to be broken up. We have to break out of this 220 year prison called the electoral college, winner take all, two-party elected dictatorship. It’s just getting worse and they’re converging more and more and surrendering corporate power — surrendering our government to corporate power. We want a lot of alternative candidates, green, independent, libertarian at the local, state and national level. If you want to see — Amy, if you want to see the trajectory of what I see in this country, because of unbridled corporate power, it’s in the book, The Good Fight, which I urge people to read.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, independent presidential candidate, author of The Good Fight, joining us from Washington. Thank you.

RALPH NADER: Thank you, Amy.

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