Ralph Nader’s Autopsy of U.S. Democracy

In this era of “embedded” reporters (i.e., they’re in bed with the people whose conduct they’re supposed to be critically evaluating) it’s refreshing to come across a well-read, straight-talking U.S. patriot who refuses to equivocate about the crimes of corporate America and its servants in Washington. In Ralph Nader’s magnificent tome, Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns (Seven Stories Press, 2013), we get none of the sound bites and moral posturing we are used to from pundits and politicians, just honest, hard-hitting analysis about everything that matters most, including a fascinating compendium of Nader’s political observations going back to the 1970s. It’s an excellent antidote to the nauseating daily fare brought to us by politically illiterate corporate “journalists.”

ralph_DVThe descriptive language alone is worth the price of the book. Nader assails the “merchants of debt” in the financial industry, lambasting their “fee-harvesting cards,” their “contract peonage,” their “orgy of reckless speculation,” and their “financial joy-ride” that led the U.S. down the primrose path to economic collapse in 2008. He relentlessly exposes “avaricious giant corporations” and “mega-corporate Frankensteins” for being the prime beneficiaries of the “Nanny State” they claim to abhor, shamelessly demanding subsidies, hand-outs, give-aways, tax breaks and abatements, waivers from workers pay protection laws, bloated contracts, free technology transfers, toady regulators, and contracted out government functions. He excoriates the “sneering arrogance of the corporate state” for its “Kremlin-style corporate board elections,” its “serf-labor” in China, its “induced addictions” and “indentured servants” (politicians), its “continual corporate crime wave,” its “massive unregulated rip-offs,” its gouging and profiteering, its “bungling corporate contractors,” its “criminal fraud,” its “profit-glutted oil companies,”its “executive mastodons of the auto industry,” its “electronic child molesters” in giant marketing firms, and its “college-payola-giving, obscenely over-compensated (student loan) industry.” For good measure he throws in shots at George W. Bush (“the mayor of Baghdad”) and Ann Coulter, “a burlesque performer throwing red meat to audiences looking for off-the-wall entertainment.” There’s little to improve upon Nader the critic.

With his encyclopedic grasp of the intricacies of corporate power and manipulation it might be fair to regard him as the Noam Chomsky of domestic policy, but he’s no slouch on foreign policy either. While liberals run for cover whenever the subject of Israel comes up, Nader unflinchingly condemns the Holy State for its practice of collective punishment against the Palestinians, its monopolization of water supplies in Palestine and Syria, its illegal use of cluster bombs in Lebanon, (including against hospitals), and its bombing and shelling of Gazan homes, police stations, pharmacies, mosques, hospitals, fishing boats and a range of public facilities providing electricity and other essential services. As always Nader does his homework, posing a series of rhetorical questions that makes it entirely clear where the blame lies for the Israel-Palestine horror show: Who is the occupier? Who is the most powerful military force? Who controls and blocks the necessities of life? Who has sent raiding missions across the border most often? Who has sent artillery shells and missiles at close range into populated areas? Who has refused the repeated comprehensive peace offerings of the Arab countries issued in 2002 if Israel would agree to return to the 1967 borders and agree to the creation of a small independent Palestinian state possessing just twenty-two percent of the original Palestine? Israel, of course.

And no, “anti-Semitism” in Europe is not a justification for dispossessing another semitic people from its land. Nader cites a much forgotten quotation from Israeli founder David Ben Gurion that concedes the irrelevance of this much brandished accusation/smear: “There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their (the Palestinians’) fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country.” It is worth keeping in mind that Osama bin Laden, Sirhan Sirhan, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said essentially the same thing.

Democrats go on and on about how Nader supposedly ruined his legacy by “throwing” the 2000 election to George W. Bush on the pretext that there were insufficient policy differences between the two major parties to justify voting for them. But Nader gets the last laugh, albeit a sarcastic one, by pointing out that Obama has delivered Bushism without Bush. Obama agreed with Bush that we needed to continue longstanding belligerence towards Iran and Russia; that we had to pour more U.S. soldiers into Afghanistan, escalate drone attacks in Pakistan, and continue the war in Iraq long after U.S. troops themselves wanted out; that we were obliged to enlarge an already obscenely bloated Pentagon budget that was consuming half of the federal government’s operating expenses; that we had to swallow unamended the socialist bailout of “too big to fail” capitalist businesses and later extend Bush’s tax cuts for the rich; that we needed more nuclear power plants, more coal production, more offshore oil drilling, all of them proven methods of producing environmental disaster; that we had to support the Patriot Act and the revised FISA act, which helped usher in spying on Americans without judicial approval; and that we certainly had to forget about prosecuting Bush and Cheney for indictable crimes. Like Bush, Obama still sees no reason to prosecute business criminals on the biggest corporate crime binge in U.S. history. He favors doing nothing about credit card gouging, medicine price gouging, the hideous deprivation and exploitation of people trapped in inner cities, the constant ripoffs of consumers in ever more obscure and unavoidable ways, the offshoring of the U.S. productive base and its concomitant massive tax avoidance; and the successful looting of U.S. housing equity, pension funds and savings accounts. And after nearly four decades of stagnant or declining wages for the vast majority of American workers, he cannot even say the word “poor” out loud, although more than 100 million Americans are mired in dismal to horrendous poverty.

Unlike the preposterously misdirected Democrats, Nader knows enough to point out the absurdity of pouring trillions of dollars into pursuing a few dozen Al Qaeda “terrorists” who have achieved a death toll in the low thousands while the awesome terror of widespread infectious disease killing millions goes virtually unaddressed. “The gravest terrorists in the world today,” Nader writes, “are viruses and bacterium with their astonishing ability to mutate, hitchhike and devastate human beings.” Tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS kill more than five million people every year, but very little of the Pentagon budget (representing half of the federal government’s discretionary spending) goes to combat them. In fact, we are not only failing to significantly combat infectious disease, we are actually breeding the ideal conditions for a global pandemic. So many antibiotics are being pumped into cows, bulls, chickens, pigs, and fish that we are creating a huge antibiotic resistance, which in turn provokes bacterial mutations that breed ever stronger and deadlier germs. As of 2008 the World Health Organization only spent $4.2 billion a year on the prevention of infectious disease, while the U.S. contribution to that budget — twenty-two percent — was perpetually in arrears. Rather than redefine national security to confront the truly massive threats that confront us, U.S. leaders prefer to continue with wholesale corporate crime and fraud, which require massive redundancies to keep the military industrial complex humming with state guaranteed profits. The “free market” works in mysterious ways.

On Obama’s signature achievement — the Affordable Care Act — Nader is scathing. “The drug and health insurance industry,” Nader observes, “swarming with thousands of lobbyists, got pretty much what they wanted.” The HMOs got millions of new customers subsidized by hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars without much in the way of regulation. The pharmaceutical companies got what they had yearned for – no reimportation of cheaper identical drugs and no authority for the U.S. government to bargain for volume discounts for the American people on their medications, plus a lucrative extension of monopoly patent protection for biologic drugs that excludes competition from cheaper generics. There is little to celebrate in the Affordable Care Act, says Nader, as the HMOs and drug companies still have the American people by the short hairs: “For all their gouges, for all their exclusions, their denial of claims and restrictions of benefits, for all their horrendous price increases, the two industries have come out stronger than ever politically and economically. Small wonder their stocks are rising even in a recession.”

The hideous pay-or-die private medical system operative in the US today will not be grilled by Obama for its bureaucratic waste, greed, overbilling, collusion, and fraud, all of which continue under the Affordable Care Act. The commodification of medicine that leaves tens of millions without coverage and tens of thousands dead every year from lack of access to treatment in time of need does not bother him. A majority of the American people and nearly three out of five doctors favor a single payer medical system with free choice of hospital and doctor, private delivery of care, and a huge reduction in administrative costs and billing fraud compared to the current system. But that would require a political battle with the HMOs that the rest of the industrial world banned decades ago, and Obama has no stomach for that.

Read Nader to find out why.

Michael K. Smith is the author of The Madness of King George from Common Courage Press. He co-blogs with Frank Scott at www.legalienate.blogspot.com. Read other articles by Michael.