Ralph Nader on Trump’s Speech to Congress
Ralph Nader tells Paul Jay that Trump’s attack on the EPA and regulatory agencies will be a disaster
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
President Trump spoke to Congress and to the Nation, and I guess to the world on Tuesday night from Congress. Here’s a little clip of some of what he had to say.
DONALD TRUMP: We have undertaken a historic effort, to massively reduce job-crushing regulations, creating a de-regulation task force inside of every government agency.
And we’re imposing a new rule, which mandates that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. And to stop the regulations that threaten the future and livelihood of our great coal miners.
PAUL JAY: In the speech, President Trump perhaps, didn’t put as much emphasis on the issue of deregulation, as in the days leading up to this speech.
At the CPAC conference, both President Trump and his Senior Advisor Steve Bannon, made their central points — as Bannon put it — to deconstruct the administrative state, to get rid of regulations. And then, a couple of days after CPAC, President Trump announced a $54 billion increase in the military budget.
And where’s that money coming from? Well, from those regulatory agencies, and from social programs. Not Medicare, not Social Security, but other federally funded social programs. But most importantly, again, an attack on what they call the regulatory agencies, regulatory environment. In the speech, one direct reference to this by Trump was on the FDA.
DONALD TRUMP: But our slow and burdensome approval process, at the Food and Drug Administration, keeps too many advances, like the one that saved Megan’s life, from reaching those in need. If we slash the restraints, not just at the FDA, but across our government, then we will be blessed with far more miracles, just like Megan.
PAUL JAY: But gutting the FDA, or speeding up the approval process. Gutting the EPA? Well, if there’s one man that’s more associated with the creation of these agencies than our guest, I don’t think there is, in fact, he is the most associated.
And joining us now from Washington, D.C., is Ralph Nader. Ralph is a renowned political activist, attorney, auto safety reformer, consumer advocate, and former Green Party Presidential candidate.
He’s the author of, “Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think”. He was instrumental in the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
Ralph has founded dozens of citizens’ groups, focused on corporate and government accountability, including the Center for Study of Responsive Law in Washington, and Public Citizen. And Ralph joins us by phone.
Thanks for joining us, Ralph.
RALPH NADER: You’re welcome, Paul.
PAUL JAY: So, first of all you’re initial, overall impression of the address?
RALPH NADER: The bulk of the address was just a rehash of all his promises and his programs to, “Make America great again”. And he’s really running out of time, because he said it last year. He said it last fall. He said it after the election. He said it after the inauguration. And apart from a bunch of Executive Orders, many of which were just exhortations, not much has happened.
But what was interesting was the bookends. I mean, he started and ended with extreme declarations of dreams for America, of compassion, of peace, of an ideal world that he has not articulated before. So, I think what he was doing, is he was trying to appeal to a unified population, supported by the most orchestrated, consistent, and prolonged applause, that I’ve heard in a long time, in Presidential addresses.
That applause was not spontaneous. It was deliberate. It was timed. And there’s no greater example of that than his valiant attempt to exonerate the failed raid in Iran, that took the life of a Seal, plus the lives of innocent men, women and children in Yemen — that the Pentagon has admitted to causing their death.
And you can see how his easily bruised ego is going to play out in the coming months; that disasters, losses, failures, blunders, are all going to be painted over, with a kind of reality TV exoneration.
PAUL JAY: I guess the death of that soldier in Yemen is a particular sore point, because the father of the solider, if I understand it correctly, had refused to meet with Trump and called for an investigation. So, I guess they figured it somewhat of a coup to have gotten the soldier’s wife to come.
RALPH NADER: That’s right. And there’s no mention of the strong protest of the father, who is a former military man, basically challenging Trump on this, and demanding in independent investigation. But the other thing is, it was a kind of Trump-utopia — that covered up a lot of bad things.
For example, the House Judiciary Committee’s passing out, without any public hearings, six terrible laws against the rights of wrongfully injured Americans. To go to court under the Law of Torts, to have their day in court with a full trial by jury, to be able to join class actions against Toyota, or Takata, or VW, or GM-type defects.
And then of course, here he is talking about the legacy of our great country, and he’s repealing, he wants to repeal, part of the American Revolution. Which stressed emphatically, against King George, III, the full use of the courts by the people at that time, and trial by jury of their peers.
The other thing is he, you know, he talks with a forked-tongue, of course. We’re going to have cleaner water. We’re going to have cleaner air, he said. At the same time, he’s preparing a massive cut, in the already debilitated budget for the Environmental Protection Administration.
Along with many other life-saving regulatory agencies, whose total budget, and you know, hardly amounts to a couple percent of the Pentagon budget. You take the FDA, the Auto Safety Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the EPA, Consumer Product Safety Commission, I mean, they all amount to a few billion dollars — compared to the $650 billion Pentagon budget, which includes the appropriations for the war against Iraq–
PAUL JAY: Ralph, to some extent, people that aren’t that familiar with these agencies, it sounds a bit like alphabet soup. Can you give some examples of what they do, and how it might affect people’s lives if they’re weakened?
RALPH NADER: Yeah, well you know, thousands of babies are born with flippers for legs and arms in Europe, because they didn’t have regulation of a sedative, years ago, that was taken by pregnant women.
Well, our Food and Drug Administration under the leadership of Dr. Kelsey blocked it. And so, there were no babies born with flippers for legs because–
PAUL JAY: …This is thalidomide, is it?
RALPH NADER: Yeah, that was thalidomide.
The Auto Safety Agency, has presided with some irregular interruptions, with a massive decline in fatalities and injuries on the road. The curve has gone up in the last two years. But according to Clarence Detlow, of the Center for Auto Safety, 3.5 million deaths were averted because of the federal role that started in 1966, under Linden Johnson, in highway vehicle and driver Safety — 3.5 million-averted deaths. And you can imagine how many more injuries were averted.
The American people have less lead in their blood because Tetraethyllead was taken off the market from gasoline, by the Environmental Protection Agency. We have more efficient motor vehicles, in terms of gas mileage, nothing like I would have liked, but still, that has saved billions and billions of dollars.
We have the Consumer Financial Protection Board, that the Republicans and Trump seem to want to abolish, that has brought back $11.5 billion. And is cracking down on financial fraud against students with loans, fraud against mortgage shenanigans, and other such corporate violations. And the story goes on and on.
Now, none of these federal regulatory agencies besieged by corporate lobbyists, and often run by people from the corporations they’re supposed to regulate, have done what I would like done. But can you imagine life without them? And those are the budgets he wants to cut. So he can continue bloating the Pentagon budget, which is the only agency in the country at the federal level that is not auditable. It is violating a 1990 federal law that went into effect in 1992 that requires them to provide auditable data to the Government Accountability Office of the U.S. Congress.
Every other agency does that. Every other Department does that, but the biggest budget of all, doesn’t do that. And he wants to give them more money! I mean, this is a Pentagon budget that loses billions of dollars in the Air Force spare parts, which they buy again because they can’t locate them in the far-flung warehouses around the world.
This is a Pentagon budget that admits to the loss, unaccountably, of $9 billion in the first few months of the criminal invasion of Iraq, by George W. Bush, and Dick Chaney. That’s $9 billion with a “B”, and he wants to give them more money. The hapless Democratic Party, of course, won’t point this out, but your reporter, Tom Hedges, has written about the not auditable Pentagon budget.
But unfortunately, the rest of the mainstream press is not picking it up. So, you can have these crazy contradictions, and it’s what he doesn’t mention. For example, he talks about terrorism, and a few homicides by illegal immigrants, he doesn’t talk about the immigrants who are in retail stores in the inner city, who have been slain by criminals who were born in the U.S., throughout the country. He doesn’t mention that at all. But what he doesn’t mention is that 5,000 Americans a week are dying, because of mishaps that are preventable in hospitals.
Who says so? Last March, Johns Hopkins University Medical School put it out — it’s 250,000 Americans dying every year, through preventable causes, hospital-induced infections, hospital malpractice, hospital errors, bad combinations of pharmaceuticals — and he doesn’t even mention it. That’s 5,000 a week, 800 a day! And the doctors, who did this study, said that was the minimum, conservative figure. That is probably much higher if they took clinics into account.
And then he talks about abolishing Obamacare, and he doesn’t mention that the government he’s heading is being defrauded $60 billion a year, Medicare’s being defrauded by corporate, and other crooks, in the healthcare industry. He doesn’t even mention that.
He doesn’t mention that over $340 billion this year will be drained away through computerized billing fraud and abuse, in the provision of healthcare sales — $340 billion, according to the applied mathematician expert, Professor Malcolm Sparrow at Harvard University — and an earlier study by the Government Accountability Office.
So, what we have here is, an orchestrated speech by Donald Trump, and I think they really worked to make sure there was no low level booing, as has often occurred, in State of the Union speeches. And they really worked on just massive applause that, you know, that when you hear it just on the radio, it just seems orchestrated and largely exaggerated.
But of course, you know, his easily bruised ego required that kind of calming, that kind of support, and I think the Republicans in the Congress basically agreed to it, because they were hell-bent on not having any division, before this big national audience — that they wanted to show that there was unity.
But actually, the Republicans, they’re going to give Trump all kinds of headaches, in all kinds of areas. Especially coming up with the money to rebuild our public works and infrastructure, along with what he wants to do on trade.
PAUL JAY: A lot of the regulations that were created, and the agencies we talked about. They came about — one, because of the demand from the public; but it also came about that a lot of the elites recognized that if you don’t have some mitigation of these sorts of excesses of the economy, of capitalism. If it gets so extreme, it’s bad for the system itself and they, including…
You know, he didn’t talk about it tonight, but the deregulation, he said before, is also going to include finance. And the Dodd Frank Regulation, which he wants to get rid of, was already weak as heck, in terms of regulating Wall Street. But if you get rid of that, and have another free-for-all on Wall Street, all of these things are, you know, really systemic risks that…
Does the section of the billionaires, and the section of the elites, that are supporting this — are they not even themselves concerned what all this leads to?
RALPH NADER: Yeah, I think they are, but you know you can’t underestimate the provision of sugar by Uncle Sam, to these corporate bosses. They’re sort of giddy now. I mean, they’ve seen the stock market soar since Trump was elected. They think with deregulation and corporate tax cuts; they’re going to make more profits. They think they’re going to be able to repatriate a couple trillion dollars of profits they’ve parked abroad, with minimal tax level of say, 5, 6, 7%.
So, they’re in their giddy stage. But I think the more far-seeing corporate executives, would have a sense of foreboding, because once the rule of law is cut back, the rule of greed, corporate greed emerges. And it has no limitations that it imposes on itself, like Wall Street speculation, with trillions of dollars of pension and mutual funds.
It has no self-imposed restraints, and it leads to things like recession, collapse, bailouts, taxpayer bailouts, shredding pensions, shredding the savings of Americans. Unemployment as the 2000 collapse, 2009 collapse, nine or eight million Americans, in terms of their jobs. So, it’s a short-term, long-term tension in the corporate community. But right now, they’re just giddy, with what Donald Trump is promising them.
Again, he made his usual factual errors about the homicide rate being very high. It’s really about the lowest in many years, notwithstanding a spike in Chicago and a couple other towns, including Baltimore.
Again, he made an error by saying U.S. corporations are charged among the highest corporate taxes in the world. Yeah, the official rate is 35%, but the actual rate, after the loopholes and the exemptions and the deferrals, is about 16%. And there are many giant companies who, for year after year, paid nothing.
Like General Electric, for a number of years, after 2000, paid no federal income tax whatsoever. They so rigged the system that they actually got tens of millions of dollars back, as benefits from the Treasury. Verizon for a number of years, paid no federal income tax…
PAUL JAY: And one of the big problems facing the economy right now, is these corporations are sitting on, we’ve reported, mountains and mountains of cash that they don’t invest in the economy. And they’re partly paralyzing the economy. And he actually reduced their tax — that just means the mountain of cash they’re sitting on will be higher.
RALPH NADER: And worse, they have so much cash, Paul, that in the last seven years, they’ve spent $2.5 trillion buying back their stock. And that’s like burning money. Imagine what $2.5 trillion would do, if it was invested in research and development, invested in higher pay for their workers, invested in shoring up the shaky pension systems in their companies, invested in productive and job-producing activities.
I’ve talked to very seasoned corporate leaders, who have retired, and they can speak freely, and I say, “What do you think of a company that buys back its stock?” And they say uniformly, they see a company with a failed management. A management that doesn’t know what to do with the profits, other than buy back the stock, in order to set up higher stock option values, and other remuneration for the top executives.
So, imagine $2.5 trillion, and that includes, by the way, over $50 billion of stock buy-backs by Walmart, which is squeezing its hard-pressed employees, to a level where a million Walmart workers are making less today in inflation-adjusted wages, than Walmart workers made in 1968.
In other words, a million Walmart workers are making less than $10.50 an hour, and if they had it adjusted, their wages for inflation would be about $11.10 an hour. So, Walmart is buying back billions of dollars of its stock, in order to increase the wealth of the Walton family that owns a huge portion of that corporation.
PAUL JAY: Right. All right, thanks very much for joining us, Ralph. I hope we can talk more soon.
RALPH NADER: Thank you very much, Paul, and thank your viewers and listeners to Real News.
PAUL JAY: Okay, thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.