longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. His most recent book is titled Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think.
Longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader responds to President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal to Congress, which calls for an unprecedented $54 billion increase in military spending while slashing environmental, housing, diplomatic and educational programs. "The mask is off. The fangs are now out," Nader says. "He is collaborating with what is, on the record, the most vicious, ignorant Republican Party in its history, since 1854."
AMY GOODMAN: To get response to President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal to Congress, which calls for an unprecedented $54 billion increase in military spending while slashing scores of other programs and eliminating whole agencies, we go to Ralph Nader, four-time presidential candidate, longtime consumer advocate and corporate critic. Ralph, your response?
RALPH NADER: Well, so much for Donald Trump’s campaign promises to the forgotten men and women of America. They’re the ones who are the big losers, as you pointed out with your many examples of these budget cuts. Overall, this is a budget that reflects corporatism, militarism and racism. The mask is off Donald Trump, his braggadocio, his lurid promises, his assurances that everything will be safe, and people will have—all people will have health insurance, and there will be plenty of jobs. The mask is off. The fangs are now out. And he is collaborating with what is, on the record, the most vicious, ignorant Republican Party in its history, since 1854. Senator Robert Taft, a conservative in the Senate in the 1950s, would have been astonished at the viciousness, the corporatism, the militarism, the racism of these Republicans, with few exceptions.
Now, when you go into this 50-page-or-so budget—the details will all come out, Amy, in May, in a bigger budget. When you go into it, you see that Sean Spicer’s daily assurances, that they want to go after what he calls inefficiency, waste and government duplicity, leaves out hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate fraud on the taxpayer. For example, they talk about the need to cut healthcare in this way and that way and push 14 million people off the health insurance rolls in a year, and 24 million by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office, or thereabouts. Just look at this. He says he doesn’t—he doesn’t want to fund programs that don’t work. OK. Almost $10 billion a year, since Reagan—a year—is spent on a total boondoggle project in the Pentagon called ballistic missile defense. It doesn’t work. It won’t work. We’re talking about the intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Society of Physicists, which includes physicists who consult with the Pentagon, have said that it won’t work, it’s too easily decoyed by balloons. There are a lot of other easier ways to get nuclear weapons in a country than this way. And yet, as a corporate welfare program for Raytheon, Boeing and others, it goes on every day. Now, this is a budget inside the Pentagon that’s bigger than the entire budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. So, you see they’re not going after the corporate crime, the corporate waste, the corporate fraud, that lathers itself throughout the federal budget.
Imagine. They talk about health insurance programs. OK, so they’re going to squeeze Medicaid. They’re going to threaten to corporatize Medicare. They’re cutting taxes on the drug companies, which was going to pay for Obamacare, on the health insurance companies, on the medical device companies, a few little taxes on the rich—getting rid of all of those in the pursuit of efficiency. Now look what they don’t talk about. They don’t talk about what the Government Accounting Office of the U.S. Congress said years ago, that 10 percent of all healthcare expenditures in this country goes down the drain because of computerized billing fraud and abuse. And that is considered a conservative figure by the expert on this, professor Malcolm Sparrow at Harvard University. Now, that means $340 billion—that’s with a B—this year down the drain. So if they’re interested in efficiency, why don’t you go after corporate crime? Just go to CorporateCrimeReporter.[com], and you’ll see more of this.
The second thing that’s fascinating and very tragic is that when they talk about healthcare and efficiency, they’re not talking about the huge numbers of people who die because they cannot afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time. And now it’s about 35,000 a year. That’s based on an extrapolation from a Harvard Medical School peer-reviewed study that appeared in the Journal of Public Health in 2009. They never talk about that. They never talk about 60,000 people losing their lives every year due to air pollution—EPA figures. They never talk about 58,000 people losing their lives due to workplace-related diseases and trauma—OSHA figures.
So we know what their game is. So this whole corporatism, militarism, racism is a huge opportunity for just 1 percent of people becoming active and focusing on the one branch of government that can have beneficial consequences for the 2018 election, as well as stop the Trumpsters in their tracks, and that’s the U.S. Congress. So, you had less than a couple hundred thousand people in the last few weeks, Amy, apart from the demonstrations in Washington on January 21st, go to congressional town meetings. And the Republicans who were there came back to the Congress, and they were shuddering. They said, "What’s going on here? I mean, something’s changing. The seats are no longer empty." They used to have town meetings where sometimes the staff was more numerous than the attendees. Now, there are three major recesses in Congress, two coming up before the one-month August recess. Fill those seats. If the congresspeople do not have town meetings—they’re already considering canceling them or having telephone town meetings—so much for meeting the people—then you have your own town meetings. You announce your own town meetings, and you have a formal summons to your senators and representatives on a set date in a convenient public location, where they have to address your agenda. That’s why I wrote this book, Breaking Through Power, a little paperback, 140 pages. And it shows the way, how very few people have changed our country throughout the history. And it never takes more than 1 percent, often far less than 1 percent, to do so. So this is a great opportunity. By being so cruel, vicious and blatantly apparent in trying to further transform our government into the pits of militarism, corporatism and racism, it can become like a boomerang, if people take advantage of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you certainly—
RALPH NADER: And the summons—the summons itself, Amy, is in this book, the formal summons by the people back home to the senators and representatives.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you certainly see the effect of this, for example, on Senator Tom Cotton, and the massive anger and response when he held a town hall meeting, with thousands there. You see Darrell Issa in California, perhaps for the first time we’ve seen him changing as a result of the huge town hall meeting, after he refused to—as we see all over the country, people putting up "wanted" signs for their congressmembers and actually take out ads in the papers, saying "wanted" or "have you seen?"
RALPH NADER: Yes, and not only that, but one of the worst members of Congress now, the head of the Oversight Committee in the House, Jason Chaffetz from Utah, found a thousand people at his town meeting, with 200, 300 outside. They couldn’t get in. They’re trying to say, you know, these are just professional organizers, and they’re paid. There was a 60-year-old couple in western New York that came in with a sign and said, "We’re not paid, Congressman Reed, but you are," which raises the question: Once people back home say to their members of Congress, "Don’t you dare pass any cuts for the vulnerable, the poor, the middle class, unless you have to share the same one"—so if they had a terrible health insurance bill, that the members of Congress have to be under it. Now they have taxpayer-paid nice health insurance bill, they have nice life insurance—health insurance, rather, plan, a nice life insurance plan. They even have housing assistance. They get almost $200,000 a year, and they have housing assistance, and they have huge pensions. So, if you force them to basically say, "What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You want to do it to us, you, our representatives, so-called? Then you’re going to have to adhere to the same standards." You’ve got to have face-to-face interaction with members of Congress, not just massive rallies where the energy often goes into the ether on a weekend. You’ve got to get them into these public auditoriums or town halls back home, where you confront them face to face. Here’s another problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Let me—let me go to—
RALPH NADER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —the clip of Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who was confronted, to say the least, by an absolutely packed auditorium, with perhaps as many people outside, as well, or more.
SEN. TOM COTTON: But that’s one reason why so many people come to the United States to get healthcare, because our healthcare system is the best in the world.
ARKANSAS CONSTITUENT: So, my question is: If we’re so concerned about the deficit, why are we building a wall that costs $20 billion?
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who was fierce in taking on President Obama. But he came back from this town hall meeting, and he said, talking about the Affordable Care Act, "You have to do this slowly. You have to start again. There is no rush." Ralph Nader, talk about what’s happening, specifically around the Affordable Care Act.
RALPH NADER: What’s happening is, you have left-right opposition to what the Republicans and Trump are doing. That’s the big opportunity now. I think Senator Cotton was shaken, because he looked at that auditorium, and he said, you know, "Some of these people are my supporters." And when you get a left-right alliance back home on the senators, representatives, it’s politically unstoppable. So you have this health—so-called health insurance system—it’s not healthcare, often it’s confused—a health insurance system proposal that is going to throw millions of people off the rolls. It’s soliciting corporate support by getting rid of these taxes I mentioned on the health insurance industry and the medical device. But the hospital lobby is upset with Trump on this proposal. They see real problems down the road, and they’re already putting ads in papers. And they’re going to be a—they’re going to be joining with a lot of citizens in opposing this.
Now, there is an argument, Amy, that these crazy proposals—they are so nutty. I mean, they’re cutting further the IRS budget so it can’t collect any of the $430 billion that is uncollected taxes in this country. How are they going to pay for all this stuff, this infrastructure and so on? A lot of this stuff is really nutty. They’re increasing the Department of Homeland Security budget, but the indications are they want to cut the Coast Guard budget. So they can use money to build the wall, they’re going to further debilitate the hard-pressed Coast Guard, which is providing security and rescue on the coastlines of America. But what I think is going on here is these are trial balloons. Trump has this idea, throughout his business career and bankruptcies, where he says outrageous things, and then he backs down a little, and people say, "Oh, he’s really much more reasonable." So I think we’re seeing here a trial balloon situation to get the response. And in May, they’ll probably moderate these cuts.
But make no mistake about it: When you have Steve Bannon in the White House, when you have the Roy Cohn in the White House—name is Steve Miller—basically, influencing or pushing the more extreme attributes of Donald Trump in terms of militarism, corporatism and racism, there is going to be a lot of tension with some of the heads of the Cabinet. And that’s going to be in the news shortly. There’s going to be a lot of tension, for example, between the secretary of the interior, who does not want to sell off the public lands, who’s looking at a budget which is going to facilitate the selling off of some of the public lands. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Before we get to public lands, I want to ask you about Meals on Wheels.
RALPH NADER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: During Thursday’s news conference, the OMB head, Mick Mulvaney, described the budget as "compassionate" when he was asked about cuts being made.
JIM ACOSTA: Just to follow up on that, you were talking about the steelworker in Ohio and the coal miner in Pennsylvania and so on, but those workers may have an elderly mother who depends on the Meals on Wheels program, who may have kids in Head Start. And yesterday or the day before, you described this as a "hard-power budget," but is it also a hard-hearted budget?
MICK MULVANEY: No, I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s—I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do to actually—you’re—
JIM ACOSTA: Cut programs that help the elderly and kids?
MICK MULVANEY: You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re focusing on recipients of the money. We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place.
AMY GOODMAN: So, he’s saying the reporter is only focusing on the person who will lose Meals on Wheels, an elderly, perhaps disabled, veteran, Ralph Nader.
RALPH NADER: Yeah, look at the asymmetry, the cruel asymmetry. He’s a very glib guy—you’re going to get used to him—Mick Mulvaney, extremely radical, extreme in terms of cutting budgets that deal with vulnerable, sick, powerless people. He’s a bully, pure and simple. But there are other budgets that are going to be cut. Law enforcement on nursing homes are going to be cut. Public transit support is going to be cut, like Amtrak, that affect lower-income people.
So, we’re looking here—we should also pay some attention to the Democratic Party, Amy. Can they rise to the occasion? I mean, look at the wonkish talk of—that you just showed a clip of, of Nancy Pelosi: "deconstruction of the federal government." Boy, that really excites people to get out on the streets, doesn’t it? They’ve got to talk in common language. People are going to lose their lives because of this budget, here and abroad. They’re cutting support for international famines. They don’t want our country to be a humanitarian power, just a military brute force power. We’ve got a situation where you have a regime that’s going to be very soft on corporate crime. After all, you’ve got a former businessman, Donald Trump, who shafted his consumers, his workers, his creditors; used bankruptcy, in his terms, as a competitive advantage; tried to avoid all possible taxes. He’s shut down casinos, unemployed workers. Atlantic City is increasingly desolate economically, in part due to his bad business acumen.
So, what you have is—what is the Democratic Party going to do? You have this group, Indivisible.org, which tells you, by the way, when there are town meetings with members of Congress back home. But what is the Democratic Party going to do? Are they going to field candidates in all 50 states who are viable? Are they going to spend their time dialing for corporate dollars? Or are they going to go the Bernie Sanders way, in small contributions in big volume? Are they going to really push for single payer? There are 64 members of the House, Democrats, who have signed on to John Conyers’ single payer. It’s HR 676, the gold standard. And they’re keeping quiet about it. They’re not pushing it, because Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are telling them, "Keep quiet about single payer," supported by 60 percent of the American people already—
AMY GOODMAN: So, Ralph—
RALPH NADER: —according to a Pew poll.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, let me take that for one example. How would you see that playing out if at this point, when there’s major questioning of Obamacare, but clearly the Republican Party is crumbling over the repeal and replace, of whatever Ryan has put forward—clearly, it’s not going to be in the form he wants it. If you see this is the moment for single payer, for Medicare for all, how would you see it working? How would you see them strategizing to introduce it now?
RALPH NADER: Well, it’s a good idea for some of the progressive press to start talking about it, instead of getting mired in what’s being done to Obamacare. You almost never see the questions—Chuck Todd and others on Sunday TV programs—so they get it into the public dialogue.
But here’s what I see. Check out The Wall Street Journal recently. There was a lead editorial on what’s going on with Obamacare and the Republicans, etc. And at the end, they said, if the Republicans lose this battle to get rid of Obamacare, they might as well get on board with single payer, because that’s going to be the future of politics. And that was reaffirmed by a columnist in The Wall Street Journal very recently, this week, Henninger, who basically said the same thing. So here you have these right-wing corporatists basically saying, if the Republicans fall on this attempt to create this cockamamie system that deprives people of health insurance and gets rid of the ways to fund it by all these tax cuts on these corporations and so on, if they fail, then the only alternative left—that’s the way they talk in The Wall Street Journal—is full Medicare for all, everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital, none of these narrow networks like in West Virginia, and which is called single payer.
So, the opportunity for the Democrats is classic. This is the time to move. And what do you see? The chief issue of Senator Bernie Sanders, when he’s running for president last year, was full Medicare for all, single payer. Has he introduced a bill yet? He hasn’t even introduced a bill yet in the Senate. Here’s the leader of the single-payer movement, being told by Chuck Schumer and others, "Stay low. Keep quiet, Bernie. We’ve got to deal with the Republicans trying to dismantle Obamacare."
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to—
RALPH NADER: So the—yeah, so—
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to foreign policy, very quickly.
RALPH NADER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You have the secretary of state, former head of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, now in Asia. In Korea, in South Korea, he goes to the Demilitarized Zone. He says that the U.S. is going to take a different approach, may well take a military approach. At the same time, on the same trip, he endorses the massive cuts to the State Department. And we know the defense secretary, James Mattis, once famously said, while serving as the commander of U.S. Central Command, "If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition." Is this budget, in itself, leading to war?
RALPH NADER: Well, it certainly diminishes the diplomatic capability and the Foreign Service capability of the State Department. And what do you think is going to take the—fill the vacuum? But the State Department itself, under both Republicans and Democrats, and Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Ms. Rice, they’re all—they’re all militarists. And you began to wonder. The militarist language coming out of the State Department was often more militant than coming out of the Department of Defense. So, even though the budget is going to be cut, the question is: Is the culture of the State Department going to be true to their ancient charter, which was not just dealing with customs, but being the harbinger of diplomacy, the harbinger of soft impact on the world, the harbinger of negotiations?
For example, all this talk on cyberwarfare and cybersecurity, there isn’t a single move by our federal government in the last 20 years to bring all these nations together for an international treaty on cybersecurity and cyberwarfare, like was done in nuclear arms control with the Soviet Union and the chemical and biological warfare treaties. Rex Tillerson is sort of a dilemma wrapped into a conundrum. We don’t know what’s going on with him, other than he’s very, very low-key. But I was just looking at some—
AMY GOODMAN: Not just low-key, secretive, not allowing any reporters on the plane, but a reporter with a—
RALPH NADER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —a news organization most people don’t know the name of, that was set up by two Republican consultants, who has not covered the State Department in any regular way before. But, Ralph, before we end, the whole issue of Donald Trump saying that President Obama wiretapped him? We just have less than a minute right now before we move on to our next segment.
RALPH NADER: Well, first of all, it’s been repudiated by his Republican allies in the House Intelligence Committee. That’s a pretty severe thing. Second, he’s in control of all the classified information. He’s now president. He can say to the NSA, the CIA, he can say, "The FISA court decisions, bring them to me and prove my point," which was charging Obama, absurdly, with wiretapping Trump Tower in New York. And he hasn’t done that. And they say he hasn’t done it, because he doesn’t want to see that he’s interfering in the investigation. He wants Congress to do so. OK, already, his own Republicans on the Intelligence Committee are repudiating him. I think there should be a national petition demanding that Donald Trump do what he’s never done in his life, and that is publicly apologize to President Obama. It’s not that President Obama didn’t start six undeclared wars in six countries abroad, in the Middle East and elsewhere, which Donald Trump is pursuing. But on this one point, he’s got to show some humility and remorse.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we want to thank you for being with us, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate. His most recent book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, why the increasing calls for a top White House aide to be—to resign? Stay with us.