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Ralph Nader interview on The Drive

Yesterday, Steve Jaxon talked to Ralph Nader about several topics, including his new book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier than We Think, about the 2000 presidential election and about Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods. Here is the entire interview. For more information from Ralph Nader, visit his website https://nader.org/.

Steve Jaxon:
All right, then. Welcome to your Tuesday Drive. Elie Jacobs from the Truman project, coming up, and a whole lot more, including Assemblyman Mark Levine, Drive senior political analyst Dr. Dave McCuhen, former MSNBC co-host political analyst Krystal Ball, Congressman Jared Huffman and a whole lot more. Joining us right now, he’s been with us before and it’s great to have him back. His latest book is called, “Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier than We Think.” He is Mr. Ralph Nader. Mr. Nader, thank you for being with us today.

Ralph Nader:
You’re very welcome.

Let’s talk, I want to get into the Amazon and Whole Foods thing, because you have some great thoughts on that. Let’s talk about this last, this most recent book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier than We Think. Tell us about that.

Well, I think a lot of people are discouraged about having an impact on their country and improving it, as citizens. And I wanted to show how a little book can be written. It’s only a hundred-forty page paperback. City Lights published it in San Francisco.

ralph naderSJ:
Yeah, City Lights, here.RJ:

How, throughout history, and I give examples, less then 1% of the people organized in Congressional districts, to make changes in the country or in their locality, can prevail, as long as they reflect majority public opinion. So historically this is what happens with womens’ right to vote, with labor and the farm movements in the nineteenth century, and many other changes in the twentieth century.

Now most people don’t get that. They think it takes a huge number of people and all kinds of uprisings and we regulated the auto companies with a very tiny number of - one percent - of the people around the country. Why? Because most people wanted better cars. They wanted safer cars for their children. They wanted more cleaner cars, fuel efficient cars. So we have demonstrated, so I’m not talking theory, that it’s easier than we think.

And then, I describe all the long-overdue changes in our country that are supported by conservatives and liberals in public opinion polls, but are never given mass media attention, because that powers that be like to divide and rule between red state, blue state, between conservative, liberal, on some key issues where they are divided, llke reproductive rights, gun control or school prayer, but not on the areas where they are on the same page. Like, believe it or not, increasing the minimum wage, which has been inflation guided. Seventy to seventy-five percent of the people! Cracking down, law and order on corporate crime against consumers and the environment, breaking up the big banks, regulating Wall Street, these and many others. You know, civil liberties, the Patriot Act. Rand Paul and Barney Frank got together to de-bloat the waste in the Pentagon budget. So there’s a lot of examples. And by the way, fifteen the state legislatures have passed criminal justice reform on juvenile drug offenses, and that can only be done because conservative and liberal legislators got together. So that reflects my recent book also, which is called “Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” Because once the liberals and conservatives walk into a Senator’s office, or a Congressman’s office, it pretty much is over. I mean, they know they can not stop the unity of liberals and conservatives back home where they raise their families, work and live. A lot of the ideology dissipates because conservative families get ripped off the same as liberal families. They bleed the same way, they’re denied health care the same way. And that’s what the book “Breaking Through Power” is all about.

And the core of the book is a formal citizen summons, by citizens, to their Senators and Representatives, summoning them to town meetings of the citizens’ creation, to discuss what the citizens want changed with the Senators and Representatives go back to Congress. It reverses the dynamic and puts “we the people” back in the sovereignty seat.

Hm. Yeah, I got to read this! Ralph Nader is with us again. I got to ask you about what’s going on right now. What are your thoughts on this, kind of, very wacky, not only last year through the election cycle, but these last five months that Trump is president?

Well, you get a big business administration connected with the Trumpsters, and it’s disarray. He hasn’t even filled three hundred out of five hundred top appointments yet. And a lot of the public servants are wondering what is going on, what they should be doing, not doing. Trump of course is his own e-mail, Twitter, rather, machine, that further discombobulates his own appointments. They wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, that isn’t what I was suppposed to be doing.” And all this was made possible by the Electoral College which has cost Democrats two campaigns, because in 2016 they won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College. There’s no other country in the world where you win the popular vote and you lose the election. And still the Democrats are not moving to support Steve Silberstein, who is in San Francisco, a retired company executive, entrepreneur, who started an interstate compact drive, so that states like California and New York have already passed laws saying, once we as states pass laws reflecting 270 Electoral College votes, we will throw the Electoral College votes to whoever wins the Presidential popular vote in the future. He is already up to 165 votes and he is one man, with seven staff, showing my point in my book, Breaking Through Power, It’s Easier than We Think.

What about that, as far as the founding fathers, it was, you know, nothing like today back then, but you know they were thinking that smaller states would not have, you know, the representation, thus the Electoral College. I’m simplifying it, obviously, but ...

Yeah, but it is very mysterious in the light of two hundred years. The small state, big states, it all depends on where they are politically, whether they’re going to be ignored by the Republican Presidential candidate or the Democrat. When I ran, I ran in fifty states, and I think that respects the voter. But now, the Republicans and Democrats, for example, the Republicans will never campaign for the presidency in Massachussets or in New York, the Democrats won’t campaign in Texas, Alabama, in mountain states. They don’t campaign, Repubicans don’t put much effort presidentially in California. So half or more of the people never see presidential campaigns and that’s not good. I think that we believe in majority rule, that’s the way it should go.

We’re talking to Ralph Nader, here, folks. I know you don’t have a whole lot of time, I do have to ask you, though, and I don’t remember if I did, the last time that you were on, but I have to ask you, and I’m getting a lot of folks telling me, make sure you ask him this. Simple question: do you have any regrets about seventeen years ago? Because had you not run Al Gore would have probably been President. Any regrets?

Well, the studies show the contrary. That is that, Al Gore won the popular vote nationwide by over half a million. It was taken away by the Electoral College, threw it into Florida. There are all kinds of corruption and shenanigans in Florida, as we know with the ballots and “ex-felons” that were not ex-felons denied the vote. Three hundred thousand democrats in Florida voted for George Double-U Bush. It then went to the Supreme Court where five Republicans out-voted four Democrats and stopped the Florida Supreme Court from continuing its recount. I’m responsible for all that? Any one of those, any one of those would have put Gore in the White House, including winning his home state of Tennessee, which he didn’t do. So I think they’re using us, the Greens and me, as a scapegoat. The Democrats are very good about not looking at themselves in the mirror and finding out why they can’t landslide a pretty bad Republican party that represents Wall Street more than it represents the American people. And that’s really my short explanation. The other one is, everyone has an equal right to run for public office and get votes from one another. And either we’re all spoilers for one another or none of us are spoilers.

Fair enough, without question.
Let me quote this. Your office released this, I believe today, this statement, concerning Amazon and Whole Foods. Quote: “With every move of this Goliath, Amazon is inviting a thorough anti-trust investigation by the Department of Justice or the FTC. Explain why you think this is such a bad thing. I don’t understatand it myself. It’s above my pay grade but...

Amazon got its head start against brick-and-mortar small businesses on Main Street USA because it didn’t have to pay sales tax, or should have but didn’t, in the various states. That’s like a six to eight percent advantage in a thin margin retail industry they’re competing against. And the retail industry never got its act together to go to Congress and say, “Look, if we have to opay sales tax on Main Street USA, and if we have to pay our property taxes to support the public schools and other public services, then you’d better start taxing Internet sales like Amazon. They never got it together so the Republicans primarily blocked any taxation of Internet sales. So they got billions of dollars’ advantage. And then, you know, Bezos is a very smart business man, he started plowing money back in to get more names, more customers, plowing money back in, incurring some losses. But now, Amazon’s become a monster. It’s destroying Main Street. The grocery store in my home town just closed. It was the only one. Because they couldn’t compete with orders from Amazon for, you know, paper towels and things like that, which cut into their margin. That wasn’t the only reason, he was retiring, but, it touches everybody. And we have to ask ourselves, for convenience and speed, and maybe a modest price advantage, what about the long run effect of a giant company not giving dividents to its shareholders, a giant company run by one man, dictatorially, that abuses his workers, enormously. The New York Times and others have written about the conditions in the warehouse are horrific, the speed-up, the pressure, people coming down with illnesses like cancer, being told they’re not up to performance and fired, busting unions.

And, emptying out Main Street which is the fiber of the local community. Small business is the fiber of the local community. So interms of anti-trust, it’s not esoteric. It’s called “abuse of superior bargaining power” and it deals with Amazon’s platforms and competitors that are on Amazon’s platforms and different pricing strategies and information data acquisition. Now in Japan and Germany, they have anti-trust laws that can move against what’s called “abuse of superior bargaining power.” That’s the same theory that, many years ago, Congress passed a law preventing railroads from owning coal mines. And of course they carried the coal. But if they allowed railroads to own coal mines, they could twist that into a monopolistic practice to hike rates to their competitor coal mine companies and push them out of business. So, stay tuned. There’s an article just appeared in Fast Company called, “It’s time to break up Amazon.” It’s by a professor from New York City, very sophisticated argument. There’s a book coming out by Franklin Foer, F-O-E-R, on Breaking up and stopping Amazon. Let’s see what the retail industry and the supplier industry does to save itself from this kind of gigantic extinction.

There are a lot of intangible factors in our economy. One of them is a vibrant Main Street where people meet, gather, make contacts, acquaintences, start plans for a better community. And he is intending to turn Whole Foods into a gigantic robotic chain, where you walk in and you don’t see any cashiers. You go in, you pick whatever you want, it’s just samples. The algorithm triggers the supply of the groceries and sends it to you or sends it to your home and you never see anybody. Now I don’t know why consumers are going to put up with that, but I’ll tell you one thing. If consumers don’t wake up to the long-range devastating effect of Amazon on the communities of this country, in return for immediate convenience, they, they’re going to pay a horrific penalty.

I’d rather go into Whole Foods and pick out my own broccoli rabe, personally.

Mm hmm, right.

Does this have to go through Congress, since there’s ...

No, the anti-trust division of the Justice Department is not keeping up with new technology and new corporate configurations like Facebook and Google and Amazon. They’re still in the old area of fighting price fixing and cartels, and tie-in arrangements that raise prices to consumers.
However, there’s going to be more action. Amazon will over-reach in some of their warehouses. There will be some terrible situations and maybe the press will start digging deeper.

I really thank you for having an intelligent conversation on talk radio. Do you know how unfamiliar an experience that is?

Ha ha, bless you! Ralph Nader, what an amazing career and life. I hope we can talk again and I appreciate everything you do.

Well, we certainly can. Just call any time, and thank your good listeners.

Thank you, Ralph. Thanks so much. Have a great week.


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