Albion Monitor
Speech of Ralph Nader (St. Francis Church, Sacramento, CA) October 17, 1996
Part 2 of 6

"What Does Money in Politics do?"

Now, what does money in politics do?

It knocks out the meritorious evaluation of issues by elected representatives. It makes them think, well you know, if I vote for this safety standard; or if I vote to close these tax loopholes for the corporations; or if I vote against eliminating a huge debt that these corporations have to Uncle Sam for uranium enrichment services; or if I vote monitor more clearly the pension plans that are being looted by too many corporations; I'm not going to get as much money for my next reelection campaign.

What's more, they may set up a primary opponent to me. What's more they may start sounding the drums with the local TV stations and the local newspapers and spreading rumors about me. And what's more, they just make life miserable for me.

And so, the non-meritorious calculation of the political antennae intent on reelection, what happens? They cave in and Congress becomes the best that money can buy. And they become, also, the best that money can rent. They're getting very versatile, these days.

That's one way to dismantle our democracy. Why do half of the people not vote? Some of them just don't care. But others say to themselves, "What does my vote mean? What does my vote mean?" There's no difference between the two parties when it comes to the really big issues of power in our country. What difference is there between the Republicans and the Democrats on the power of the Federal Reserve which keeps a permanent unemployment rate of five and a half to six percent? An underemployment rate of even more millions of Americans because it wants to make sure that the creditor classes -- the people, the banks and others who lend the money -- don't get nicked by inflation. And some economists even dispute that kind of policy on those grounds.

But Clinton and Dole are the same. The Republicans nominated Alan Greenspan out of Wall Street years ago as chairman of the Federal Reserve, which is a prisoner of the banks, a willing prisoner of the banks, and Clinton just reappointed him.

What's the difference between the Republicans and Democrats on cracking down on corporate crime which is at epidemic levels? If you want to document it, you don't have to read The Nation magazine or the Multinational Monitor , just read the Wall Street Journal, outside its editorial pages, that is. Almost every day they're documenting it.

Three years ago, for example, in a very memorable page one story, they said that the Defense Department has obligated itself under Congressional demand to clean up the toxic contamination in California of the military defense contractors, even if the contractors dumped the toxic waste in your water and on your soil in criminal violation of state law. And you the taxpayer pay to clean it up.

What has Clinton and Dole ever said about law and order against corporate criminals? They talk about personal responsibility? Isn't that safe? Sometimes I think Clinton ought to talk about his own personal responsibility. But they talk about personal responsibility? What about corporate responsibility? They talk about street crime? What about corporate crime? Corporate crime and violence destroys more lives, causes more injuries, causes more disease, damages more property, loots more savings, than all street crime put together, bad as it is.

Bad as street crime is, it is a small fraction of the looting by corporations of people's savings. You're spending half a trillion dollars -- half a trillion dollars -- to bail out the crooked savings and loan between the years 1990 and the year 2020, including capital and interest. Half a trillion dollars. Have any idea how much bank robbers stole from banks? Maybe $150 million a year. Every day, in the financial press there are big scandals, big money looting policy holders, looting holders of annuities, pension holders, savers, stockholders. The Prudential securities racket -- hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. Metropolitan Life and its deceptive sales practices. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, Towers Financial, that was only 400 million of dollars.

After all, you add them up it comes up to real money, real money. We're talking tens of billions of dollars a year of corporate crime and fraud and the people don't get five cents on the dollar back, which is why Proposition 211 is on the ballot and being attacked by the Silicon Valley moguls who don't want to be held personally responsible when they engage in egregious insider trading and manipulate the stock leading to severe losses for innocent shareholders or pension trusts that are invested in those companies.How about corporate violence? There are 28,000 homicides in this country every year. Far, far, far too many. There are 80,000 people in this country who die from medical malpractice just in hospitals every year. That figure's a conservative estimate by the physicians at the Harvard School of Public Health who did the study. The number of people who die from medical malpractice just in hospitals -- we're not talking about Medicaid mills in the inner city, et cetera -- is greater than the total fatality figure from fire, motor vehicle deaths and homicides. That's for starters. Criminal negligence, gross indifference, or worse.

60,000 Americans die prematurely from air pollution diseases. 100,000 die from occupational toxics in the workplace and trauma.

And the tobacco companies, to keep their business booming, have had to hook 10, 12, 11, 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds, in a lifetime of addiction. 420,000 deaths a year from tobacco. And you know, not 10 percent of the people who are hooked on cigarettes start smoking after 19. This is what the head of the Food and Drug Administration called a "pediatric disease." But he could have called it a corporate crime of child molestation.

What about the people burned to death in sidesaddle fuel tanks on millions of GM cars? there are hundreds of people who have burned to death because of the exposed nature of the fuel tank. Side impact collision incineration. They refuse to recall those trucks. They've paid over $100 million in secret settlements for that purpose, to keep it secret.

What about the thousands of American who've had the Shyly-York heart valve implanted in them? The company knew that it was defective after a few years and they covered it up. And hundreds have died when the heart valve broke. And it doesn't take much time for the death to follow.

What about the people who were exposed to the Pinto fuel tank. The hundreds of thousands of women who were mutilated by the Dalkon Shield? The company knew about it. The insurance company, Aetna, knew about it. If it wasn't for the litigation against these companies like GM, if it wasn't for the litigation against the Ford Pinto, if it wasn't for the litigation against A. H. Robbins of the Dalkon Shield, none of this information would have come out, none of this trauma and death and injury would have been stopped, and none of the victims would have gotten any compensation.

Is it any surprise that the corporations and the insurance companies have mounted a massive propaganda drive here in Sacramento, in state capitols and in Congress to restrict the right of wrongfully injured people to go to court against the perpetrators of their harm, and they have the gall to call it "tort law reform?" Now do you know?

It's as if they say, "There's too much justice in America." Nine out of 10 wrongfully injured people never file a lawsuit. It's so hard to win these cases against the manufacturers. We've just written a new book which is out tomorrow called "No Contest -- Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America" to document, with my coauthor Wesley Smith, how these corporate lawyers, the masterminds of power, are moving not just to obstruct, delay and harass people who are injured who sue their corporate clients for hazardous products, for defective devices in the medical area, for toxic pollution -- they're not satisfied with delaying, obstructing, destroying evidence, and then settling with a gag order on the plaintiffs so the rest of America wouldn't find out about the evidence regarding millions of defective vehicles, or thousands of defective medical products.

They're not satisfied with that. They're going to the legislature, greasing the palms of the lawmakers at the state and federal level, to in effect say to you, no matter how badly your children, or your friends, or relatives were injured by wrongdoing, by criminal negligence, by cover ups, in these defective and dangerous products, that you can only get a certain amount in a court of law decreed by lawmakers who've had their hands greased, lawmakers who never see their evidence, never hear the testimony, are not even in the courtroom week after week, and they are tying the hands of the judges and the juries in a biased fashion against the wrongfully injured people, not against the perpetrators.

And here in California you've had an example of something called the micro law, which in 1976 was passed and signed and which said no matter how serious the brain damaged infants' problems will be for the foreseeable future, no matter how serious the incompetent physician rendered a person a paraplegic or a quadriplegic, no matter how serious the injury from the wrong transfusion of blood types, or the wrong pipe down the wrong part of the anatomy, or the wrong organ being surgically cut out, that you in California can receive no more than $250,000 for pain and suffering, apart from your medical expenses, for a lifetime.

Now, let's say it's a 40-year lifetime expectancy. Divide that by $250,000, make sure it doesn't adjust for inflation, and see how far it takes you. Now the same insurance companies that are pushing for Congress to pass the same law as this draconian one in California, I checked on some of their salaries. The executive chief of the AIG Insurance Company in New York, in 1994, one of the companies pushing for the $250,000 lifetime cap for a horribly injured person's pain and suffering, made, in 1994, $250,000 a week, every week, without any pain and suffering and it comes from the same pot of money -- your premiums.

Now you know why it was necessary to defeat the insurance industry here in California in 1988 through Proposition 103.

Now you know why it's important to take on the HMOs and the health insurance industry with Proposition 216. With Proposition 216, which among other provisions, will establish a consumer watchdog group open to any consumers to join with their full-time investigators and attorneys and economists and organizers to make sure that these hospitals and these HMOs do not marginalize you out of the minimal health care and health care stay in the hospital that you all deserve.

You've heard of drive-thru births, 24 hours and out? Well, in my state of Connecticut the banner headline in the Hartford Courant a couple months ago was another drive-thru. Listen to this one. listen to the vicious profit mentality that's involved in this: a drive-thru in and out mastectomy, not even one night in the hospital.

And that's just the beginning of what managed care, driven by the profit motive of these giant insurance companies have in store for you, unless we stop them.

Now to stop them we have to look at our recent successes. The motor vehicle companies were into style over safety 25 years ago. They sold you dream boats, they sold you rust-prone, repair-prone, junk. As a matter of fact, I had a meeting a year and a half ago with an executive from Chrysler who calmly said to me, "We have really improved our products. We're no longer selling the junk we sold a couple of decades ago."

I said, "What did you say? Would you please repeat that?"

They've also gotten rid of some of their tail fins, whose principle function to protect cars from pedestrians, apparently, impaling them. They've got air bags. They've got seat belts. They've padded dash panels, collapsible steering columns. stronger door latches so you're not spilled out on the highway in a moving vehicle that's been struck. There's still more to do -- strong side impact, stronger rollover protection.

But do you know what the fatality rate has decline to from 1965? It was 5.6 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1965. It is 1.8 now.

I guess that was so impressive, that the Republicans in Congress and George Ronald Clinton in the White House decided to get rid of the federal speed limit, even though the Department of Transportation said it will be another 6,500 fatalities a year, another 20,000 total permanently injured Americans, another $20 billion in health care and other losses, more auto insurance hikes, more fuel inefficiency, and more air pollution. Mr. Clinton had a chance to veto it, send it back, have it sent back to him with the highway construction and repair parts of the legislation. He signed it.

Right now we're getting the figures from Texas. Forty more people every month from Texas lose their lives. Higher speeds.

Where were our politicians? They literally destroyed a successful, lifesaving program for over 20 years, and now they're going to say to us, "You're on your own folks! It's going to cost more health costs, more wage loss. It's going to cost more on your auto insurance; you're on your way."

Why didn't Dole criticize Clinton for that? Because Dole voted for it, too. When you have two look-alike candidates, how can they criticize each other for surrendering to corporate crime, corporate power, corporate payoffs, corporate fraud and corporate maliciousness? How can they possibly do that?

One very important part of the realization here that we have many solutions we don't apply, and many problems and injustices that we don't deserve in our country is to stop growing up corporate and we all grow up corporate.

Growing up corporate is a many unsplendored phenomenon. I first realized it when I used to look at cars as a youngster and check out the make and model by the ornamentation around the car, the grill pattern, the chrome strips, the hood ornaments, et cetera. And then a few years later I began studying automotive design technology and the absence of legal safety standards. And those were the years that we call now the "Juke Box Era" of automotive design.

Some of you remember the '59 Cadillac with the three-pronged tail fin like the dinosaur Tregosaurus' tail. And you remember the Impala that impaled you on a dagger-like hood ornament. And you remember the names of the cars: the Cougar; the Cutlass Supreme; the Barracuda; the Fury; the Marauder, which literally means one who lays waste and pillages the countryside.

Remember the ads in U.S. News and World Report? Those full-page cover ads that say, "Buy this B-52 Buick, you'll have your own nuclear deterrent!" Or you will become "Your own human thunderbolt!" True tranquility transmitted through those pages, eh?

Those were the days when the auto companies placed the supremacy of stylistic pornography over engineering integrity, gas-guzzling monsters, huge chrome be-decked vehicles full of technological stagnation; with people in Japan and West Germany saying, "Ah-ha! There might be a market there!" For more sensible motor vehicles, for motor vehicles that are more fuel efficient, that are less repair-prone, and they took a lot of jobs from this country because of that technological stagnation, and still do.

However, the engineers in the auto companies had the answers for decades. The seat belt was invented in World War I and applied to aviators who were told to buckle up because they'd fall out of the planes when they were fighting.

The padded dash panel? That goes back to the Greek physician Hippocrates who said the human body is more likely to survive a collision against a flat yielding surface than a sharp cutting edge on the dash panel.

The collapsible steering column? Imagine, a handful of executives throughout the decades made the decision in Detroit that in a collision between your chest and a steering column, your chest was going to give, not the steering column, until 1966 when they took off the shelf a collapsible steering column device that had been patented 40 years earlier, with exactly that purpose of lifesaving in mind.

When I found that in a U.S. Patent Office I couldn't believe it. It was patented by the auto companies. They said, "Conventional steering columns have a propensity to ram back into the driver's body in a front collision. This can lead to rather serious injuries. This new innovation would make sure that when a human being hit the steering column, the steering column would telescope and reduce the peak load of the forces on the motorist's body." It didn't take any Einsteinian breakthrough.

They knew how to make better brakes, better tires. They were making them in Europe, radial tires, before we were; disk brakes, before we were. and the air bag was invented in 1952 and it didn't hit the auto dealerships until the early 1970's and then only as an option not promoted by the auto companies.

What changed it? People stopped growing up corporate and started looking at cars more functionally. They didn't look at cars the way the auto company ads wanted us to look at cars -- style, horsepower, interior decor -- they began looking at cars because more information came consumer groups and congressional hearings on the media. They started looking at cars for safety, fuel efficiency, repair costs, durability, emission control. They looked at cars ore functionally.

What happened? Voila! A law was passed! A dreaded regulatory law was passed called the Motor Vehicle Safety Law of 1966 and hundreds of thousands of lives were saved and millions of injuries prevented.

And that's when the government stood arm's length with the auto companies.

You know what the government does now in the Auto Safety Agency in the Department of Transportation? It's a consulting firm that you pay for to make sure that automobiles that are defective are not recalled; to make sure that existing safety standards are slated for repeal; to make sure that long-overdue safety standards for truck brakes and truck weights and handling and side-impact and rollover are not issued in an adequate form.

And who's the president of the Department of Transportation? Once again, George Ronald Clinton. There's no difference between Clinton, Bush and Reagan when it comes to that area of our government.

I mentioned earlier that Clinton and Dole didn't raise certain issues because they don't disagree on these issues. The Federal Reserve. Soft on corporate crime. The bloated military budget.

How about that one? There's no Soviet Union any more. What do we need a $280 billion military budget for? Are we afraid of Ukraine? How long must Uncle Sam be a sap? We're spending $100 million a year to keep our troops in Western Europe and East Asia ever since World War II, defending prosperous countries like Germany, France, Japan, who are eating our trade lunch, and against what adversary? I'm trying to figure it out. $100 billion. Is it Moldave? Is it Lithuania? Is it Inner Mongolia?

And why are we building these multiple, global destruction, redundant weapon systems? $80 billion for B-2 bombers; or $50 billion for fighter planes; or nuclear submarines. We already have the equipment to blow up the world a thousand times. What are we going to do? Blow up the rubble? Is that what it's for?

Now look what's suffering. It isn't the budget deficit. It's the misallocation of your tax dollars, that is the real taxpayer issue.

When you blow up the Pentagon budget you increase the borrowing, because you're not going to increase the taxes. That means you increase the debt interest on the national debt, which is $200 billion a year now, just to pay the interest on a $5.3 trillion debt.

Look how it's grown: When Reagan took office, he had made more speeches against deficit government than any politician in American history. He took office with $930 billion national debt and left with $3.3 trillion national debt. So much for setting records.

There are military analysts who say we can get along very well on $150 billion military budget. Others say $100 billion. You know after most wars, after most hostilities, our country's converted. The soldiers and sailors are mustered out, we convert to a civilian economy. We have a permanent war, military budget now and it's bleeding investments in critical public works and critical needs of the American people here at home.

The same is true for Dole and Clinton on corporate welfare. You know how many times Clinton and Dole say we gotta' do something about welfare for the poor? Well they never say anything about doing something about welfare for the rich and the corporations.

Just consider the figures here:

If you put aside Medicaid, which I don't consider welfare -- there's no Western country that consider health insurance welfare -- put aside Medicaid, do you know what the total Federal poverty programs means-tested amounts to as a percentage of the national budget? Three and a half percent.

The corporate welfare budget is much, much larger. Your tax dollars, to go for subsidies, giveaways, inflated government contracts, exclusive monopolies, bailouts and all kinds of assorted promotions and boondoggles and free research and development giveaways for medicines, et cetera; it amounts to $250 billion easily.

Why do we tolerate this aid to dependent corporations and we don't even give them a five-year cut-off or workfare.

Here's an example of corporate welfare, one of many:

The Export Corporation, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing and others, they owed Uncle Sam $12 billion in deferred taxes on export sales and it was 1979 and they sent somebody up to Capitol Hill and in one paragraph they wiped out the debt in a 1000-page bill.

Three years ago, the atomic power utilities who were running nuclear plants, they owed Uncle Sam $10 billion for uranium enrichment service. They wiped out $8 billion in a little paragraph in legislation that passed through unnoticed on Capitol Hill.

How about this one? From 1981 to 1983, General Electric made $6.5 billion in profit. You know how much federal income tax it paid? Zero. It got a $150 million refund by a "safe harbor" provision that it lobbied with other companies through the early years of the Reagan administration.

Now look at the contrast here, if you will: One worker in General Electric in those two years, in one week paid more income tax to the federal government than the entire General Electric Corporation and its $6.5 billion in profit.

Now what did it do with this money? It was supposed to invest in new productive facilities and jobs. You know what it did with this money? It bought RCA which owns NBC. There it is. Of course!

Look at NBC. It doesn't cover the four nuclear plant shutdowns in Connecticut this summer. I phoned up NBC, I said, "Hey, this is a big story. They got four nuclear plants. They're all shut down. Three of them due to safety deficiencies ordered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Could it have anything to do with General Electric being a nuclear power plant manufacturer owning NBC?"

He said, "Naw. No. It's just an oversight. It was too far away. Connecticut is too far away from New York. The smoke signals hadn't arrived yet."

I want to suggest to you that the misallocation of the federal budget and the reason why Clinton and Dole don't talk about these things is because it would drive you up the wall and into action if you had those particulars. Let me give you an example.

Add up the following: In the last two years the Congress has said -- they haven't quite gotten away with all of it, but they almost did -- that they don't have money for $300 million for public broadcasting, including wholesome children programming.

That they don't have money for $300 million for legal services for the poor, a wonderfully successful program over the last 25 years; that they don't have money for $100 million to improve drinking water system safety in this country; that they don't have $15 million to hire meat and poultry inspectors to keep the 4,000 fatalities and other injuries from contaminated meat and poultry down to a minimum

That they don't have $50 million to produce examples of crash-worthy and fuel-efficient cars, which is one of the ways to get Detroit moving: you say, "Here you are, our engineers have done it. It's a model, it's suitable for mass production, doesn't cost much, do it;" and they don't have $50 or $100 million for infant health programs for infants born in poor families, of which there are many. Now add all that up.

Doesn't even add to $1.5 billion, does it?

Switch the scene.

Last year Martin-Murietta and Lockheed decided to merge. You know, these big contractors have an urge to merge, only instead of being hit with an anti-trust suit for monopolization -- there aren't that many big defense contractors for the Pentagon dollar -- the Pentagon pumped $1.5 billion to subsidize the merger of these two companies, including $30 million for executive bonuses to eight men at the top of the two companies.

You see the difference?

Now whenever they say to you, "We don't have several hundred million dollars for public libraries," do you know how much the government spends every year to help public libraries? What kind of civilization do we have if our libraries are decaying? If they don't have adequate books, don't have adequate facilities for children, for school, for adults, for citizen activists? It's about $100 million and sometimes $40 million a year. Do you know what that is in the Pentagon budget? This is a department that rounds out military contracts to the nearest $800 million. It's nothing! We're starving our libraries. We're starving our clinics that serve 40 million people, community health clinics.

But we've got plenty of money for prisons.

Clinton says to Dole, "You're not going to turn my right flank, Bob. You're never gonna' turn my right flank. You want more prisons? We'll give you more prisons. You want to crack down on civil liberties and habeas corpus, the great Constitutional Writ in the guise of a Crime Bill? We'll do you one better. You want to reform the welfare law and throw 1.1 million children into poverty and cut food stamps for hungry children? You're on, I'll give you the signature pen at the White House."

Any of you who are worried that this Green Party candidacy might, shall we say, undermine Clinton's victory in November, have no worry -- Clinton is too unprincipled ever to lose to Bob Dole.

What he needs is a wake-up call. What he needs are people who are fed up with piling on and wasting their vote on a Clinton runaway bandwagon just because he's not as bad as Newt Gingrich! It's enough!

Previous Story Next Story

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor October 27, 1996 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page