Ralph Nader urges more Americans in civic actions

Updated: 2016-10-02 16:48

By Chen Weihua

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Ralph Nader urges more Americans in civic actions

US political activist Ralph Nader speaks at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington on Saturday. [Chen Weihua/China Daily]

I've watched and listened to Ralph Nader speaking on TV and radio many times, but last Saturday was the first time I met him in person. The 82-year-old political activist and one of the most noted third-party presidential candidates was talking about his latest book “Breaking Through Power: It's Easier Than We Think” in the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington before a packed audience.

In the book, Nader called on American people to engage in civic actions to help fix the ills of the society rather than giving up to the powerful corporations which are not only influencing, but controlling their government and Congress.

He believes the US democracy is already a mixture with plutocracy and oligarchy. In his view, it only takes less 1 percent of American citizens, or some 2.5 million adults, to help make the changes by volunteering hundreds of hours a year, citing various major changes in US history.

He explained that this is because the 1 percent has the majority opinion behind them.

Nader sighed at the fact that there are actually 5 million serious bird watchers in the US, people getting up at dawn with binoculars and connecting with each other.

“Is there a hobby known as Congress watchdog?” he asked.

For Nader, voting should become a duty for every American just like in Australia, where voter turnout is more than 90 percent, in contrast to the level hovering around 50 percent. He clearly dislikes both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Nader warned the audience that the military industrial complex never has to have rallies on streets demanding more nuclear submarines or F-35s. Instead they engage in lobby with Congressional staff. The lobbyists, or the K Street, or the National Rifle Association (NRA), are laser-focused on those 535 lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to Nader.

Nader's arguments made a lot of sense as revealed in the many research reports from think tanks in Washington. For example, a Sept 30 report titled “America's Awesome Military” by Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O'Hanlon and General David Petraeus continued to argue for more investment to beef up the US military regardless the fact that the US defense spending is almost three times as large as that of its closest competitor China and accounts for about a third of all global military expenditures, with another third coming from US allies and partners, a fact the authors admitted in the report.

Or a report by Anthony Cordesman of Center for Strategic and International Studies on Chinese military spending on Sept 28, in which the China military threat is played up to justify the monstrous military spending in the US.

Nader described the US pivot to Asia, as championed by President Barack Obama, as to stimulate an arms race with China.

In the book, Nader repeatedly cited President Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the military industrial complex, saying it was actually the “military-industrial-congressional complex” in the original draft.

The consumer rights advocate warned against the excess corporate power and control. “In a plutocracy, commercialism dominates far beyond the realm of economics and business; everything is for sale, and money is power,” Nader wrote in the book.

He said the corporations are legally persons under the law, with rights and powers that far exceed those of human beings, citing words by MIT scholar Noam Chomsky that “corporate campaign contributions are a major factor in determining the outcome of elections.”

Nader is deeply upset with the airwaves which he said are public property but are now only used for purely commercial entertainment. “There is no channel for labor, no channel for civic action, no channel for consumers, no channel for patients, no cable channel for students, and yet we are licensing these companies to give them monopolies. What we are getting in return?” he asked the audience.

He warned about the public apathy towards many of the problems perpetuated by corporations. “Our country has more problems than it should tolerate, and more solutions than it uses,” he wrote.

In the book, Nader gave a to-do-list for readers, everything from reverting airtime to the people to use on their public airwaves to debate issues and defending and extending civil liberties against USA Patriot Act to reining in the Wall Street and auditing the US war machine, namely the defense budget.

Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com