Nader Denounces DC Lobbying Culture

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader returned to his roots last week in an all-encompassing denunciation of Washington's slavish devotion to corporate agendas.

Nader told a dinner audience at the National Press Club that every significant government branch or important watchdog apparatus has been captured. He said the situation is far worse than he observed when he first worked in Washington in the mid-1960s.

Nader's talk had a bittersweet quality as he recalled working at a small office at the club following his graduation from Harvard Law School. He said he could look out from the club to the broken windows the Willard Hotel, a once and future luxury establishment between the club and the White House. Aside from such superficialities as downtown renovation, he said, much of the city has gone downhill, most especially Congress and the news media.

Update: As a separate development, about a 20 security personnel, some armed, appeared at the National Press Club April 2 with National Rifle Association officials in an unprecedented show of firepower as the NRA spoke out against proposed gun legislation in Congress. The armed security, using earpieces as if they were Secret Service personnel, ordered certain photographers not to take photos, and at one point prevented a 90-year-old Press Club member, approximately 5-foot five and 110 pounds, from walking along a club corridor. The NRA show of strength to announce its advocacy of armed guards in schools apparently was to underscore its position of strength for making the rules in Washington and across the nation. Details below.

Nader spoke to the McClendon Group, an independent speaker society based at the press club. The chairman for a quarter of a century has been John Edward Hurley, who serves also on the board of the Justice Integrity Project among several other civic groups. Hurley, shown at right, introduced the speaker this way:

Ralph Nader's career as author, activist and presidential candidate has captured the attention of the American public over much of the last half century. Since he co-founded the non-governmental organization Public Citizen in 1971, this NGO now has over 225,000 members. His national media campaigns have covered air pollution, nursing home flaws, the insider atrocities that Congress cultivates, nuclear dangers to the political and world environment, Watergate, whistle-blowing, national security, the gigantic corporate strangleholds on democracy, and the Iraq war, to name but a few of his issues.

With all of his past activities, you would think that he would have difficulty coming up with something new.  But if you think this, you would be wrong.

Nader then began his March 26 lecture by describing the major governmental bodies in Washington. One by one, he described their failures in their responsibilities. He said consumer advocates are outnumbered by more than 100 to one by corporate lobbyists, "who are not here to just to look at the Washington Monument."

Forceful and articulate, Nader specified the ways that corporations gut the effectiveness of Congress, the courts, regulators, the rest of the executive branch, and the media. Nader noted that the Constitution and other founding documents do not mention the word "corporation."

He argued that the best hope for the public is to elect better members of Congress, or else persuade billionaires to fight for the public interest after they have made their fortunes. In 2009, Nader published, Only the Super-rich Can Save Us. The 733-page book is his only work of fiction.

His first book was Unsafe at Any Speed, published in 1965. He played a leading role in the recall of millions of unsafe consumer products, as well as vastly improved regulation of the environment, workplace safety, and transportation safety. The crusading attorney has been named by The Atlantic as one of the nation's 100 most influential figures, and by Time and Life as one of the last century's most important figures.

Claire Nader, the speaker's sister, happened to sit to my left during his speech. The slender, retired social scientist with a doctorate from Columbia University was born in 1928. Like her brother, she is a thoughtful and dynamic social activitist.

I was gratified — and extremely surprised — that she remembered me from my first book, Spiked, more than a quarter of a century previous. The case study on the decline of media under conglomerate ownership focused heavily on my first employer, the Hartford Courant, which she and her siblings had read as youngsters in northwestern Connecticut.

"You were thinner then," she added, as nicely as possible. I'm at the point where I welcome well-intended feedback. So, I laughed, and responded that I hope to resume a healthy living in the spirit of her brother's 2007 memoir, The SeventeenTraditions, derived from their upbringing, following my latest research project.

I previewed with her the major findings of my book, Presidential Puppetry, to be published later this month. What I found most interesting was that even she, who shares her brother's activism and concern about unresponsive leaders, was not aware of the main irregularities and deceits I mentioned.

This is not unusual since no one can know them all. I have tried out the findings with several esteemed reporter friends of mine working for major media, and have learned they have not had time to explore even certain leads on scandals within their specialties.

I have kept the research findings secret until this point to prevent the kind of last-minute cover-up that I occasionally observed in New York and Washington on sensitive matters.

The research, like Ralph Nader's overview, shows that the United States government is no longer entrusted to its citizens. Power over government is concentrated in a few executives, families, and institutions that advance their ideologies and other interests.

The result is job loss, evaporation of the safety net, deficit spending, terrorism, financial instability, and partisan gridlock. Voters must take their power back by rejecting the puppet masters.

The ABC-TV show, Scandal, launched in 2012, focuses on important topics in a politically acceptable way: by fictionalizing them and portraying as the hero a former presidential advisor whose consulting firm specializes in containing scandals. That is better than the mainstream media's all-too-frequent practice of ignoring major issues entirely.

But it would be better still if the facts behind actual events were revealed. We need citizen Truth Patrols to hold elected and appointed officials accountable, and to demand answers from leaders.

 

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment
 
 

 

 

Related News Coverage

Huffington Post, The Regulatory Nullification and the Cruelty of Big Business, Ralph Nader, April 5, 2013. It's time to start paying close attention to the mechanisms of the deregulation machine. For the past 30 years, the business lobbies have pushed Congress and the executive branch to disassemble the regulatory system that has protected us from the worst excesses of Wall Street and Big Business. The catastrophic effects of this dismantling are well known -- the misbehavior of Wall Street brought us the financial collapse, the global recession, and the dominance of the largest banks being both "Too Big to Fail" and their culpable executives "Too Big to Jail." Despite negative public sentiment and the rise of the Occupy movement, the avarice on Wall Street arrogantly continues on. The big banks are now even bigger and more powerful than they were in 2008 when they were bailed out by the U.S. taxpayers.

C-SPAN, Ralph Nader Talks Money in Politics and How Voting for the ‘Least Worst’ Candidate Corrupts Democracy, March 26, 2013 (4:28), We'll have th usual Green aparties. There are some mega-billionairres considering running in 2016.It's almost, highly probable. "We've had aneough, we're going togofor Ross Perot got 19 million votes. Named by The Atlantic as one of the hundred most influential figures in American history, and by Time and Life magazines as one of the most influential Americans of the twentieth century, Ralph Nader has helped us drive safer cars, eat healthier food, breathe better air, drink cleaner water, and work in safer environments for more than four decades. The crusading attorney first made headlines in 1965 with his book Unsafe at Any Speed, a scathing indictment that lambasted the auto industry for producing unsafe vehicles. The book led to congressional hearings and automobile safety laws passed in 1966, including the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. He was instrumental in the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC), and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Many lives have been saved by Nader's involvement in the recall of millions of unsafe consumer products, including defective motor vehicles, and in the protection of laborers and the environment. By starting dozens of citizen groups, Ralph Nader has created an atmosphere of corporate and governmental accountability.

Washington Post, The NRA’s disarming plan to arm schools, Dana Milbank, April 3, 2013 (print edition). The gun-lobby goons were at it again. The National Rifle Association’s security guards gained notoriety earlier this year when, escorting NRA officials to a hearing, they were upbraided by Capitol authorities for pushing cameramen. The thugs were back Tuesday when the NRA rolled out its “National School Shield” — the gun lobbyists’ plan to get armed guards in public schools — and this time they were packing heat. About 20 of them — roughly one for every three reporters — fanned out through the National Press Club, some in uniforms with gun holsters exposed, others with earpieces and bulges under their suit jackets. In a spectacle that officials at the National Press Club said they had never seen before, the NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters’ briefcases before granting them access to the news conference. Thus has it gone so far in the gun debate in Washington. The legislation is about to be taken up in Congress, but by most accounts the NRA has already won. Plans for limiting assault weapons and ammunition clips are history, and the prospects for meaningful background checks are bleak. Now, The Post’s Philip Rucker and Ed O’Keefe report, the NRA is proposing language to gut the last meaningful gun-control proposal, making gun trafficking a federal crime. Apparently, the gun lobby thinks even criminals deserve Second Amendment protection. If the NRA has its way, as it usually does, states will soon be weakening their gun laws to allow more guns in schools.

Wayne Madsen Report, NRA security goons seize control of National Press Club, Wayne Madsen, April 3, 2013. Armed gunmen order photographers not to take photos. Armed thugs block entrance to library. WMR sources: 90-year old NPC member ordered not to move by armed security personnel. Fault goes all around: the NRA should have been told to leave their gun monkeys at home and the Press Club should've put its foot down.

Washington Post, Cancer Clinics turn Away Patients, Sarah Kliff on April 3, 2013. Citing Sequester,Cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts. Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially. Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them. “If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we’d be out of business in six months to a year,” said Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York. “The drugs we’re going to lose money on we’re not going to administer right now.” After an emergency meeting Tuesday, Vacirca’s clinics decided that they would no longer see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists / Huffington Post, Secret Files Expose Offshore's Global Impact, Staff report. April 3, 2013. Dozens of journalists sifted through millions of leaked records and thousands of names to produce ICIJ’s investigation into offshore secrecy. A cache of 2.5 million files has cracked open the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and the mega-rich the world over. The secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists lay bare the names behind covert companies and private trusts in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and other offshore hideaways. The leaked files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike. The records detail the offshore holdings of people and companies in more than 170 countries and territories. The hoard of documents represents the biggest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever obtained by a media organization. The total size of the files, measured in gigabytes, is more than 160 times larger than the leak of U.S. State Department documents by Wikileaks in 2010.

National Press Club Wire, Cummings pushes gun trafficking legislation, Bob Weiner and Rich Mann, April 3, 2013. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, urged “action” on gun legislation in Congress at an April 2 Newsmaker. He underlined the current dangers associated with gun trafficking and made the case for tough federal penalties aimed at “straw purchasers.” Cummings said, “Most Americans already think gun trafficking is a federal crime — but it’s not. They have no idea that there is no federal law targeting firearms traffickers who commonly use ‘straw purchasers’ to buy guns for convicted felons and other dangerous criminals who cannot legally buy guns on their own. Laws to prevent trafficking are toothless, like a traffic ticket.”

FireDoglake, Two Big Components of the Affordable Care Act Delayed for a Year, Jon Walker, April 2, 2013. A big sign that the federal implementation of the Affordable Care Act is not going smoothly is the Obama administration delaying two big components of the law for at least a year. Last week Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced that the Obama administration will delay the Federal Basic Health Plan Option (FBHPO) until 2015. Cantwell is responsible for putting the provision into the law. It will allow states to create a program to cover people from 138% to 200% FPL instead of putting them on the new private insurance exchanges.

FireDoglake, Exchanges Fail to Control Cost, Jon Walker, April 2, 2013. Private health insurance exchanges, like those created by the Affordable Care Act or in Medicare Advantage, have historically failed to control cost. Part of the reason is the basic economic issue of individuals lacking real market power and actually choosing the “best” insurance option, which is extremely complicated. Another problem is lobbying related. Whenever you needlessly create private middlemen you also create another layer of lobbyists. You don’t just have providers lobbying for higher prices, you now have private insurances companies lobbying for them as well. Because of their business design these middlemen are even better at lobbying and/or rallying their customers to lobby. This dynamic makes what we have seen happen in Medicare Advantage more likely to occur.

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

National Press Club, African American entrepreneur urges swift action on black unemployment, Bob Webb, March 26, 2013. Billionaire entrepreneur Robert L. Johnson urged the nation to reduce the high unemployment of African Americans at a March 26 National Press Club luncheon. Citing a Zogby poll on African American attitudes, he said "When polled on why African-Americans believe black unemployment is consistently double that of whites, responses include failure of the education system for minorities, lack of corporate commitment to hiring minorities and a failure of government policies for hiring practices." To improve the lot of African-Americans he wants "to create a discussion within the black communities and the broader community to bring to the forefront of public debate key issues of primary concern to African-Americans." He said the Zogby poll "reveals that African-Americans have an immense sense of pride in Barack Obama as President of the United States and he is unequivocally liked. He receives a 91 percent favorable rating. Seventy two percent believe that President Obama's election has helped them while only 4 percent believe his election has hurt them." He expressed some unease about what may happen when Obama's term ends. He said a majority of those polled, 62 percent, are optimistic about employment in the next four years. Johnson also said the poll showed 30 percent of respondents believe they are better off financially compared to four years ago. (Photo Courtesy of Noel St. John.)

New York Times, Choice of Plans Under Health Law Delayed for Small Firms, Robert Pear, April 1, 2013. Unable to meet tight deadlines in the new health care law, the Obama administration is delaying parts of a program intended to provide affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees — a major selling point for the health care legislation. The law calls for a new insurance marketplace specifically for small businesses, starting next year. But in most states, employers will not be able to get what Congress intended: the option to provide workers with a choice of health plans. They will instead be limited to a single plan.

Legal Schnauzer, The Remnants Of Alabama High Court's Credibility Will Be Riding On Luther Strange's Recusal Petition, Roger Shuler, April 1, 2013.  To no one's surprise, Attorney General Luther Strange has filed a petition asking the Alabama Supreme Court to force the recusal of Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young in the VictoryLand seizure case. Will the state's high court grant the petition? Well, that probably depends on how the justices answer the following questions: * Do they care about retaining what is left of their tattered credibility? * Are they concerned about signs that they are engaging in a criminal conspiracy?

Washington Post, Could Google tilt a close election? Craig Timberg, March 29, 2013. Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil.” But what would it mean for democracy if it was? That’s the question psychologist Robert Epstein has been asking in a series of experiments testing the impact of a fictitious search engine — he called it “Kadoodle” — that manipulated search rankings, giving an edge to a favored political candidate by pushing up flattering links and pushing down unflattering ones. Not only could Kadoodle sway the outcome of close elections, he says, it could do so in a way most voters would never notice.

 

 

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