Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Ralph Nader's talk

As I feared, there’s no wireless connection available. By the time this post goes up, it will be all over. Still, I'll keep a minute-by-minute account running, so you'll see what I would have posted if I had been able to live-blog.

8:45 pm -- I arrived a few minutes ago and looked for a spot with wireless. No luck, I'm afraid. There's a decent crowd here, and it will only get bigger, as the event is sold out. A lot of the people here look like students, but there are quite a few older folks here.

8:50 pm -- There are quite a few cameras set up, but none of them look like professional TV crews. I did see a van belonging to the local FOX news affiliate outside, however.

8:55 pm -- Speak of the devil. The crew setting up some way beside me is professional. R news, a local news station. They were apparently just doing a test of some sort, as they didn’t stay long.

9:01 pm -- Ralph’s coming out, to much applause. They turned the lights out, but Ralph asked that they be turned up. I’m glad, because my laptop’s pretty bright. I don’t want to be that prominent.

9:02 pm -- Ralph’s starting to talk about consumer advocacy, and the political implications. It sounds like he’s blaming the harm done by automobiles -- traffic and pollution and safety -- on the failure of the auto consumers to organize, and instead the highway lobby was in charge. He's talking about how GM and its collaborators destroyed the trolley industry. I’m trying to wrap my mind around it. From the facts he’s put out, GM may be responsible for killing some trolley systems, but I don’t see how they can be held accountable for the entire nation’s highway system.

9:07 pm -- He’s singing the praises of public transit now. Hey, I liked Boston’s public transit, but you know, I like having a car now. I tend to think consumers like cars. But then, I’m an ignorant capitalist, what do I know?

9:10 pm -- He’s now saying that if consumers spent 10 hours learning how to buy food, we could save 30% on our food budgets. I’m all for educated consumers, but most of us learned how to shop for food from our mothers. Now, perhaps they didn’t teach us very well, but I know I spent more than 10 hours of my life going to grocery stores with her.

9:12 pm -- In the sense that he thinks consumers should be more educated, I agree.

9:14 pm -- He’s just described what’s in a hot dog. I can’t stand hot dogs anyway, so I’m not particularly concerned.

9:15 pm -- He’s just told us there’s 9.5 teaspoons of sugar in Coke. He says it’s not on the label, but I already knew there were 27 g of sugar per serving of Coke. That it does say on the can. I guess he’s complaining that it doesn’t give that amount in teaspoon units.

9:19 pm -- He attributes the diversifying of the supermarket on better consumer education.

9:20 pm -- He’s plugging his website,

9:21 pm -- He’s telling how he berated one of his 25-year-old supporters for not liking radishes. When he said, "I don’t like radishes." Ralph asked, "Who’s I? Is it your kidney, your liver, your heart, your mind?" Apparently it was his tongue.

9:27 pm -- He’s telling a story about how one of his books encouraged car buyers to use Ralph’s own "consumer written" contract. The first guy who wrote him about what happened said the dealer called the police.

9:30 pm -- He’s complaining about tort reform. He says that in 1840 we filed more per capita lawsuits than today. I bet class action lawsuits were rarer, though.

9:32 pm -- He’s saying that courts do not favor consumers. I have no data on that.

9:33 pm -- He’s asking now whether people in the audience have ever filed a lawsuit, aside from divorce court, saying that it’s more than average than the population as a whole. I looked around, and I was thinking it looked like 5-10%. [Addendum: His argument, of course, is that this is not a litigious society, that we in fact do not sue often enough.]

9:37 pm -- He’s now talking about doctors. He’s saying that something like 5% should not have a license (I was typing when he said that, so I’m not quite sure of the number).

9:39 pm -- He’s now talking about the success of driving smoking from public areas.

9:41 pm -- He’s now telling a story about how he ended up sitting next to a smoker who recognized him on the last flight where smoking was allowed. Apparently, the smoker was not a forgiving sort. The crowd applauded.

9:45 pm -- Apparently only 25% of Americans smoke now, down from 46% in the 1960s. 25% seems like a lot more than I thought.

9:46 pm -- He’s complaining that we’re the only country of the Western world without universal health care, without four to six weeks of paid vacation, with such a poor public transit system. Of course, we’ve also got an economy that works, but I won’t go there. But at least we’re ahead in smoking. [Addendum: In getting rid of smoking, I mean.]

9:49 pm -- He’s telling how he helped to get the automobile industry regulated. Mandatory seatbelt, collapsing steering column. He says that this improved automobile safety from 5.6 deaths per 100 million miles to 1.6 per 100 million.

9:51 pm -- Cosmetics now. Talking about how the cosmetic industry defines commercial beauty standards. I’m pretty good at ignoring it. He’s talking about how it hurts us, by causing anxiety, neuroses, even suicide. So is he suggesting suing them? He hasn’t said.

9:55 pm -- He’s talking about how banks can debit you and you don’t notice the charges.

9:57 pm -- He’s saying that schools should teach consumer education, while seller education is a big concern. I’m thinking that’s because people are rarely paid to buy stuff.

9:59 pm -- He’s now saying that crime in the suites, corporate crime, takes more money and kills more people than crime in the streets. He’s saying that 10% of health care charges are fraudulent.

10:00 pm -- He’s saying that the money cheated from people is enough to provide health care for all the children who don’t have insurance. Show me a government program more efficient and less corrupt than an industry, in any country, and maybe I’ll believe him.

10:04 pm -- He’s talking about how Soviet citizens waited in lines, now we wait on the phone. I don’t see that there’s a real connection.

10:05 pm -- He says Southwest and Fed-ex answer their phones while others do not. Why? He still hasn’t said. I figured he’d argue that it was due to some law he lobbied for. It could very well be economic competition.

10:07 pm -- He’s saying that U of R needs two new courses: consumer education and citizen skills. Citizen skills sound like Political Activism 101: calling talk shows, writing effective letters to your congressman, attention-getting stuff, using the Freedom of Information Act, getting and disseminating information. I didn’t really need help to start a blog. Political education would be more interesting to me. How to spot media bias, maybe.

10:12 pm -- He’s talking about how corporate dominated U of R used to be, and how they can’t get permission to start these classes. His applause line stated that the University trustees should take off their corporate caps and concern themselves with the welfare of their students.

10:13 pm -- Another applause line: "Too many young people today lose their twenties trying to resolve personal issues they should have solved in their adolescence."

10:15 pm -- The recurring theme: We live in a corporate society.

10:16 pm -- I agree that there’s too much "corporate welfare." I’m not a big fan of corporate handouts, but that’s my libertarian side showing.

10:18 pm -- You know, from how he talks, you’d think the bulk of the government’s money was going to corporate handouts, rather than, say, Social Security.

10:21 pm -- He’s encouraging us "young people" to be more activist.

10:22 pm -- He says that most people make less money now, in adjusted income, than they did in 1973. He’s complaining about outsourcing now.

10:25 pm -- Talk’s done. Something of a standing ovation, although it looks like a lot of people are just leaving. I’ll wait to see if there are any questions.

10:26 pm -- Question: What do young people do in a university like this where the administrators who have been bought by corporations? [If that’s true, why did they let Ralph on campus? Someone in the VRWC screwed up!] Answer: The students should organize to make sure academic values are supreme. What’s the line between academic and corporate science? Need written policy to how much time faculty can spend moonlighting. Supposedly there’s a difference [Addendum: between corporate and academic science, I mean. I never did anything for corporations, but I have friends who did. The way MIT worked, anything done on campus by Grad students had to be publishable. Maybe not everyone has this policy.]

10:30 pm -- Question: How long will oil dominate? What will this mean concerning future wars? Answer: We don’t have an energy policy to get rid of oil and gas dependency. Corporations are in control.

10:31 pm -- Question: How do we get rid of the majority political system where minorities have no power? [Addendum: That pesky democracy!]Answer: Need to get rid of the electoral college. Since can’t get rid of it by amendment, should get rid of winner take all. Need proportional system. Not regional. If state have two seats, one ballot, first place and second place each get a seat, third place not get anything. [Addendum: Plenty of people think that regional politics should no longer matter. I don't agree, as I think regional governments are more responsive than national, and anything that gives regions less power over the federal government tends to centralize government. That pesky federalism!]

10:39 pm -- Question: What happens when budget deficit causes dollar to collapse? Answer: Now he’s praising the dynamic economy, saying that this won’t happen. [Translation: he’s not concerned about the budget deficit.] He says the economy will survive because the government will bail it out. [Addendum: He quotes his father as saying: "Capitalism will always survive because socialism will always bail it out." I bet the Europeans wish someone would bail out socialism.] Danger: we’re in debt to a lot of foreign countries. He’s mixing this with the trade deficit. The trade deficit is not the same thing as foreign debt, but he’s not making the distinction, so I’m having a hard time following his argument. [Addendum: But apparently it's a bad thing.]

10:41 pm -- Question: Are our lawsuits raising consumer prices? Answer: Huh, he’s talked about this his entire talk. Now he’s praising the insurance companies for spreading out corporate costs. Hmm, I seem to remember him complaining about the fraudulent insurance companies earlier on.

10:45 pm -- It’s getting late, I’ll be getting going soon. I don’t want to stay too late.

10:47 pm -- Question: Why isn’t family helping? Answer: Corporate society destroys families. [That’s an interesting argument.] There’s a need for two breadwinners for a middle-class existence, and that draws parents apart. Television and video games make children less social, less family interaction.

10:52 pm -- Question: Why are you running for president rather than work on these issues? Answer: "We are shut out of Washington by a two party duopoly that is in bed with the corporate interests." We need consumer advocate in Washington. The Democrats are now much more in thrall to corporations than they used to be. One objective of running is to give young people opportunity to get involved. Wants universal healthcare. Wants "foreign policy that wages peace militantly." Decrease defense funding--we have no major enemies [Uh, this guy is running for President? He does know this is 2004, not 2000, right?]. Plug for

Update: I typed this over two hours while listening to Ralph Nader speak. I'm not a great typist in the first place, and since I was writing, not taking dictation, I spent most of that talk writing as fast as I could while listening. This inevitably led to mistakes and ugly stylistic missteps. I've decided to keep it as is, for the most part, but I'll correct any egregious grammatical errors. I may not be able to help myself with some of the stylistic things, but I'll make it clear if I make any substantive corrections. Any notes in italics that say [Addendum: More stuff here.] are later additions.

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