Nader discusses problems facing the country. These include the concentration of power and wealth; declines in real wages; lack of universal healthcare; NAFTA, GATT and the problem of lowest-common-denominator harmonization demanded by free trade regimes; the tendency of the middle class to turn on the poor when the country is in decline; the lack of facts about corporate welfare in debates about public welfare; and skewed budget priorities.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio’s daily, grassroots election show. I’m Amy Goodman. While CNN and C-SPAN brought you the presidential nomination speeches of Bob Dole and Ross Perot and will certainly do so for Bill Clinton, not to mention the broadcast networks, none carried Ralph Nader’s nomination speech last night from UCLA. Because of that, we are devoting today to excerpts of that speech. We thought we might be playing the whole thing, but because it was more than two hours, we’re just bringing you large chunks. Again, Ralph Nader speaking last night, accepting his presidential nomination from the Green Party.
RALPH NADER: Now, any knowledge of history registers this observation: Any society that allows one segment of it to have an excessive concentration of power and wealth, and that segment has a commercial, mercantile priority above every other value system in the society, is going to get in trouble. And we have, from time to time, as a society, fought back against the big robber barons and the railroads and the banks and the financial and natural resource companies, etc. But in the last 20 years, we have had an extraordinary concentration of power and wealth in fewer and fewer global corporation hands. And you can see the consequences of that in so many ways. When you have that kind of concentration of power and wealth, you have a weakened democracy, you have a weakened public voice, you have a weakened public advocacy. And that registers. And look how it’s registered.
Look at the signs of decline in this country because our democracy has not been allowed to strengthen itself, because we don’t spend enough time as public citizens, because we have allowed global corporations, with no allegiance to our country, scour the globe for the dictatorships and the dirt cheap labor to exploit and export the jobs there. We have allowed them to take over our government, to dominate our economy, to exploit small business, to straightjacket inventors, to shape our very culture, to replace our folk culture with commercial culture that stresses violence and addiction, to decide what kind of research is done at our universities, to decide that the ordinary people pay the taxes – as someone once said, “Only the little people pay taxes” – to decide that they, the corporations, weren’t going to pay any taxes.
And now look at the result. In the 1950s, corporate income tax represented between 25 and 30% of the federal outlays. Today it’s between 6 and 8%. Record corporate profits, record stock market prices, record executive compensations, and they are paying a shrinking amount. And many of these giant corporations pay 1% federal tax, 2% federal tax. How about this one? Everybody watching this assemblage, whoever paid a dollar to Uncle Sam between the years 1981 and 1983, paid more taxes than the giant General Electric Company, which produced $6.5 billion in profits, paid no taxes, because of a safe harbor loophole provision got a $150 million refund. And that was supposed to be to get General Electric to invest in new productive capital equipment; instead, they bought RCA, NBC. And now maybe you wonder why NBC isn’t covering the closedown of four nuclear plants in Connecticut, three of which are closed down due to safety defects this summer. Well, General Electric is in the nuclear business. What do you expect? Now — now —
SUPPORTERS: Go, Ralph, go! Go, Ralph, go! Go, Ralph, go! Go, Ralph, go!
ANNOUNCER: We are live on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles, and this is a talk to the Green Party.
RALPH NADER: The intonation should be “Go, we, go! Go, we, go!”
All right. Now, for all those super-rich Pollyannas who think America is number one, look what they and their corporate cohorts have done to America to make it far less than number one. In 1980, the U.S. was first with wages in the world; it’s now 11th and sinking. In 1980, the U.S. was the greatest creditor in the world; it’s now the biggest debtor in the world. Today, we’re 17th in the world in infant mortality. We have 23% child poverty. Think about that. Almost one out of every four children in America live in dire poverty, with all that means in terms of stunted human potential, health hazards, safety hazards, brutalization and surroundings that you wouldn’t want to have to describe with any equanimity.
You know what the child poverty rate is in the Netherlands and Sweden? Three percent in Netherlands; 2%, Sweden. We’re the only country industrialized in the world that doesn’t have universal health insurance. Over 40 million — over 40 million Americans, many of them children, have no health insurance. Twenty million are underinsured, and the rest wonder when they’re going to fall through the cracks — when they change jobs, preexisting conditions, copayments, deductibles, exclusions, cancellations. Hey, this is the land of the free, home of the brave. What gives?
The GNP is up. Eighty percent of the American people suffered a decline in income and wealth, adjusted for inflation, in the last 20 years. One percent of the richest people have taken two-thirds of the financial wealth increase in the 1980s — 1%. The wealth of 90% of the American people barely is equal to the wealth of the top 2%, even the 1%, depending on which figures you rely on. Imagine. That kind of concentration of wealth is greater than any country in Western Europe, greater than in Japan. We now have the greatest disparity in wealth and income between the rich and rest of the American people of any country in the Western industrialized world. And we used to have the least inequality, because Europe was so class-stratified with their barons, etc. Imagine the decline, the hunger in this country, while the taxpayers are forced to pay the Cargills and the Continental Grains to store all that food that’s rotting in the warehouses. And just imagine, corporations are contributing 50% less to private pensions in workers who are lucky enough to have private pensions.
And it keeps getting worse. Homelessness is up. You know, some of you who went abroad years ago came back to the U.S. and said, “Am I glad I’m back in the U.S.A.” And someone would say, “Why?” Well, you say, “You know, people there are afraid to drink the water. They’ve got to have bottled water.” They say, “You know, you’ve got the poor there. They’re buying lottery tickets. Can you imagine? They hardly have enough money, and they’re out there hoping for the big bang to buy the lottery tickets. And you know those countries, they think imported products are higher quality than products made in their own country.” And on and on and on.
Just look at this figure, if you will. We have been exposed to so-called free trade dogma for over 20 years now. They keep saying, “It’ll work out all well for America. It’ll work OK, American workers.” What have we had for 20 years? Record trade deficits, which means record exporting of jobs.
Now, what’s the latest nostrum by the free trade dogmatists? GATT and NAFTA, designed to envelope our democratic processes underneath an autocratic governance system, with headquarters in Geneva, with secret tribunals, closed harmonization committees, equivalence procedures and all the mumbo jumbo that spell three things: one, that under GATT, the nations that treat their people more humanely are the ones who get in trouble; the countries who treat their people inhumanely are the ones that don’t get in trouble, because if we have strong consumer workplace and environmental standards, other countries can say, “Those are really indirect trade barriers. They’re keeping out pesticide-laden food from Brazil or unsafe automobiles from the European Community.” And they take us to Geneva. And if we lose, we have to repeal these safety and health laws or pay tribute economic fines for these countries, before secret tribunals that are closed to the public and have no independent appeal. Can you imagine suppressing our democratic processes by these kinds of autocratic systems of government?
And harmonization, you know what that is? That means we’ll never be first in health and safety standards, because we have to meet in closed doors with other signatory nations and figure out how many dolphins are going to die, how much reformulated gasoline is going to be allowed, what kind of safety devices on our cars are going to be permitted — lowest-common-denominator harmonization. Meat and poultry inspection harmonization meetings are going on now under GATT. This is a subversion of the progress that we’ve made, and a chilling of future progress. Those of you who want to have stronger cancer prevention standards applied to industry, next time you propose them, you may well get a letter from the State Department saying, “Well, we respect your indulgence here, but don’t waste your time. This proposal is GATT illegal.”
Do you know that we banned child labor in this country, but if we pass a law in Congress that bans the importation of products manufactured by brutalized child labor in other countries, that we will be defeated before the tribunal of the World Trade Organization, and we’ll have to repeal that law or pay tribute economic fines perpetually to the countries, such as India or Bangladesh or others, who are allowing this kind of tens of millions of children to be so horribly exploited? We’re losing our sovereignty.
Now, notice what happens when the GNP goes up in the aggregate and the yardsticks show growth, but it’s decline for more and more of the American people. What happens is, people start fighting people. The big guys at the top begin dividing and ruling, and middle class is told, “Hey, it’s those poor people on welfare. Why, they’re eating your taxes alive.” Have you ever heard of these big guys at the top say, “Hey, it’s those rich guys on welfare. They’re really eating you out of house and home”?
You know what’s amazing. One sign of propaganda, it’s devoid of fact because it’s full of lies. And here’s the propaganda: You ask the average citizen in this country, “What percent of federal outlays goes to means-tested poverty entitlement programs?” You know, that’s food stamps, AFDC, child support, child nutrition, school lunches. I doubt whether many of them would say 3.4% of entire federal outlays.
Now, when you ask them, “How much do you think goes for corporate welfare?” well, suddenly there’s a lack of statistics. But even The Wall Street Journal estimated it at $140 billion a year — $140 billion a year. But if you take corporate welfare in terms of subsidies, bailouts, giveaways, inflated government contracts, tax loopholes of the grossest sort, and forgiveness of corporate debt, you’re up to over $200 billion a year easily. And yet, when the citizen groups go up to Congress and say, “Please, can we have $50 million more dollars for safe drinking water systems in America?” “Sorry. No money.” “Can we have $300 million for equal justice under law, called legal services of the poor?” “Oh, no. We can’t afford it.” “Can we have $300 million for public broadcasting, little wholesome programming for children, instead of the violence they see on TV?” “Oh, no, no, no. Gotta balance the budget!” They say, “Well, what about” —
Yet this is the same Congress that funded billions of dollars for the biggest mass transit program back a few years in our country. You know what it was? The MX missile. This is the same that pumps billions of dollars into antiquated or redundant or unnecessary mass weapons systems. I mean, just imagine the grotesque allocation of the federal budget. If the family allocated its budget the way the federal government, under corporate power, allocates its budget, the family would be committed. What if an average family spent — what if an average family spent 20% of its budget against a nonexistent enemy, another 15% of its budget to make the people living in the mansions on the hill richer, and then wrung its hands when it came down to feeding the children, to providing them with healthcare, to providing them with a decent education, clothing and housing? Our federal budget has enormous money, that is being misused and wasted and escalated up from the middle class to the rich and the corporate, which can be used to produce millions of jobs in public works, in building, rebuilding, repairing America.
SUPPORTERS: Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go!
ANNOUNCER: You’re listening to Ralph Nader on KPFK and KPFT, Pacifica Radio, live from the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles, in Macgowan Hall, Ralph Nader speaking to the Green Party.
RALPH NADER: Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go! Go, we, go!
For those Americans who stay home and don’t vote because of their disgust with Tweeledum-Tweedledee corrupt politics, I say your slogan should be “We’re not staying home anymore!”
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, accepting his presidential nomination from the Green Party last night. He was speaking at UCLA in Los Angeles. When we come back on Democracy Now!, the rest of — or at least a good portion of Ralph Nader’s more than two-hour speech. Stay with us.