Green Party Advocate Ralph Nader Addresses Andover Community

This past Friday, renowned consumer advocate and three-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader addressed a packed Cochran Chapel on consumer rights and a number of other controversial issues. Mr. Nader covered a variety of topics from advertising to children to the obesity epidemic in America and the so-called “coup d’etat” that corporate America has launched on federal, state and local governments. Mr. Nader is best known for his campaigns for President in 2000 as a member of the Green Party and 2004 as an independent, as well as for his book Unsafe At Any Speed. Unsafe At Any Speed prompted Congress to launch investigations into practices at major automobile companies and eventually led to legislation making seatbelts required safety equipment in cars. After an introduction by Instructor in English Kevin O’Connor, Mr. Nader began his lecture by focusing on the power of major corporations in both government and daily life. Specifically citing the influx of major business executives and lobbyists into the Washington arena in recent years, Mr. Nader warned that corporations today are more powerful than ever. In his lecture, Mr. Nader argued that American taxpayers are not only supporting government programs and institutions with their tax dollars, but are also “subsidizing major corporations.” Mr. Nader mentioned the examples of major pharmaceutical companies Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer, who use public research conducted in government and university labs to develop and patent so-called “blockbuster” drugs. The drug Taxol, which was largely researched by the National Institutes of Health, was patented by Bristol Myers Squibb, who charged $14,000 for six treatments of the drug. This price put it out of the reach of many Americans. Mr. Nader also said that pharmaceutical companies were hardly the only recipients of taxpayer-funded research, and he went as far as to say that many industries would simply not exist without the assistance of the federal government. Regarding lucrative contracts awarded by the Department of Defense, Mr. Nader said, “Over half of the federal government’s operational budget, not including programs like social security and Medicaid, is spent by the Pentagon,” From this, Mr. Nader brought up the war in Iraq, calling President Bush’s War on Terror an “inflated propaganda plan”. Mr. Nader listed three primary reasons that President Bush used as rationale for invading Iraq. First was the claim that weapons of mass destruction were present in Iraq; Mr. Nader pointed out that none has yet been found. Second was the claim that Iraq was tied to Al Qaeda, and by association to the terrorist attack of 9/11. Mr. Nader said that no such ties have ever been proven. President Bush’s third justification for the war in Iraq was that Iraq was a threat to its neighbors. Mr. Nader pointed out that Israel’s army alone was many times stronger than Iraq’s. Mr. Nader then moved on to politics and brought the question before the audience: Why are major politicians avoiding the issue of the corporate “coup d’etat?” The answer, Mr. Nader believes, is that politicians are afraid of damaging a very lucrative source of campaign funds. Mr. Nader said that these politicians have enacted only “slap-on-the-wrist” reform legislation, such as the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act intended to protect American investors from corporate corruption like the Enron scandal. Additionally, Mr. Nader said that the American political system has evolved into a two-party “duopoly” in which the Democratic and Republican parties have become increasingly similar in policies and tactics. Mr. Nader said that before 1980 Democrats raised nearly all of their money from labor unions, while Republicans received funds from corporations. Today, though, in Mr. Nader’s opinion, corporations are “hedging” their bets by donating massive sums to both Democrats and Republicans and rendering the differences between the two parties minute. In addition to these topics, Mr. Nader also discussed the PATRIOT Act, “growing up corporate,” and how students can influence local and nation legislation.