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Is Anyone Dead on Your Highway?

By davidswanson - Posted on 13 September 2010

By David Swanson

It's over a decade since I last heard Ralph Nader speak in Charlottesville, Va., and I was curious to see what kind of crowd would greet him Monday evening. The answer was one of the biggest rooms on campus packed, and mostly with students, enthusiastic students who gave standing ovations, and laughed and responded throughout a 90-minute speech.

There are not many -- if any -- other speakers who can get young people in the United States to turn out for a political speech like this. And they didn't just turn out. They enjoyed being called slackers and given a swift kick in the butt. Nader was advertised as speaking on energy policy, but he opened with an ancient Chinese saying: "To know and not to do is not to know," and he never let go of that theme even when he finally did touch on energy policy.

A professor had given Nader an excellent introduction, denouncing the myth that he'd helped elect George W. Bush -- a myth you'd think wouldn't get past the initial fact that Bush was never elected.

Nader had only wanted to speak at the university, not in any other location, when planning to come to Charlottesville, and his speech was directed to students. He pointed out other myths, including those taught in law schools, such as that defendants in the United States are innocent until proven guilty or that Congress must declare war or that we have a right to habeas corpus.

Corporations are now our masters, rather than our servants, Nader said. We now have what FDR would have called fascism. We're in the midst of a corporate crime wave, and universities are not even studying corporate crime. The reason for this, Nader pointed out, is that universities are being corporatized. UVA was a perfect location at which to make this point, given its advancing merger into the military-industrial-research complex. Jefferson would be disgusted with the state of his school in that regard.

In a democracy, Nader said, the government can behave as a dictatorship 98 percent of the time, as long as it leaves you personal freedoms. But civic freedom, Cicero's "participation in power," is another question entirely.

Local organizations like People's Alliance for Clean Energy (PACE) and the Coalition to Save McIntire Park had organized the lecture, and Nader helped introduce students to the activist issues in the town around their campus. Saving a park scheduled to be destroyed by a new highway, Nader said, should be part of the university curriculum. What better way to learn than by doing something useful?

Nader jumped around in his unscripted remarks, hitting themes he's mastered over many years, returning time and again to strengthening young people's conceptions of their own power. What do you own? Nader asked. Aside from what you think you own, he said, you also own a great commonwealth, public works, public lands, parks, the air waves. We have to think in those terms, Nader said, and lose our corporatism, our ethnocentrism, our militarism, and our two-party tyranny.

Nader began to touch on energy by pulling out some little known history. In the 1920s, he said, Ford, Edison, and scientists from MIT proposed an economy based on carbohydrates instead of hydrocarbons. That opportunity was passed by. In 1952, Truman's Materials Policy Commission recommended a shift to solar power, predicting that three-quarters of homes would be solar powered by 1975. That opportunity was passed by too.

We don't have a technical problem, Nader stressed. We have a political power problem. People prefer renewable energy. It's not a difficult choice. But energy corporations make less money the more efficient the energy is, and even Exxon can't order up a partial eclipse of the sun to increase profits. They want energy they can control, Nader said. He might have added that in the long run, of course, this is leading to something we cannot control at all.

Everybody, Nader said, makes excuses. Everybody! With very few exceptions. It's always less than 1 percent of the people who take action, he said. I'd spoken to Ralph earlier in the afternoon and mentioned Bruce Fein, someone I know Nader agrees with on certain issues and disagrees with on others. But Nader's comment was an enthusiastic: "He's got fire in his belly!" That's true, and that's what Nader seems to think most people lack -- a lack that, in his view, may destroy us.

Nader even gave the tea partiers credit for "having a pulse." But, he said, they are so "factually deprived" that they are very vulnerable to manipulation. They oppose "big government" as if it is something different from the big businesses that tell every government agency what to do.

Nader veered back to energy, recounting the successful organizing against nuclear power in the 1970s and laying out the case against nuclear power. This is a local issue in the Charlottesville area, where a third power plant has been proposed for Lake Anna. What other form of energy, Nader asked, requires an evacuation plan, presents a national security risk, can't obtain private insurance, licenses its officials to arrest you, and produces highly dangerous waste that never ever goes away? Nader cited Amory Lovins for a claim that we are now twice as efficient in our use of energy as in the 1970s and could be much more so, could eliminate 90 percent of the energy we use.

Nader swerved back to people's failure to take action even on their perceived injustices. I recalled a conversation I'd just had that afternoon with a friend at a reception for Nader. She'd told me that she was working on the question of what motivates people to become activists. In her case, she said, it had been an injustice she had experienced. The injustice was not terribly relevant to the areas in which she now did activism. That didn't seem to matter. The same is true for me. I experienced an injustice and began to fight against injustices faced by others, no matter how different they were.

We talked about how much easier it was to get people to take action against wars when they were Bush-Cheney wars, and how much harder it was to get people to oppose wars while supporting the face of the war machine. I decided we would need to create a cartoon personification of the Pentagon, an Uncle Sam gone bad, perhaps a character named Mick (Military Industrial Complex Killer). We could oppose --him-- whether the current president was supposed to be on the good team or the bad team. (Hey, cartoonists, feel free to run with this!)

Nader jumped back to nuclear power and renewable energy, the populist and progressive movement. He went into community solutions: credit unions, community health clinics, community energy, coops, micro energy. The local power company, Dominion Power, Nader pointed out, was already making us pay for the construction of a power plant that was not producing power and would probably never be built, and we were paying as well for Dominion Power's advertising and propaganda, and for its legal fees when we fight it in court. And it doesn't have a vote, Nader said, only human beings have votes.

We are the least organized people in U.S. history, Nader said, and our biggest problem is a lack of human motivation. But if you have some sense of injustice, then you have a sense of justice, and everyone has something to give. Nader said that he'd gotten into activism in the same way that my friend and I had. He said he had taken up the question of auto safety because he'd lost a lot of friends on the highway and was determined to find out why.

And he did find out why and fix it. And those who dreamed of reforming tobacco policy, and beginning arms control talks, and expanding civil rights did so. The impossible can be made probable, and the probable can be made realistic. Nader said this so powerfully that I was tempted to think it might survive the next week of television viewing. I expect for some small number of young people in that room it will. And that may make all the difference in the world.


this; I'd be prepared to bet, if I had any money.

They didn't report it in the Fall of 2001 according to a piece by the Robert Parry
of His article said that it was finally determined and reported in Fall 2001 that Bush had lost the election; but the media was too busy drumming or cheerleading for war at the time, so they didn't want to take a little time to inform Americans about the little matter of who did not win the 2000 election, and who did win it, but was unConstitutionally unelected, by the power elites.

Okay, so the media was too busy with cheerleading for the wars of the war makers and profiteers. We can "sympathize" with that, right? Surely not; but we can't undo the past, either.

However, have they ever published the fact that Bush lost in 2000, or have they always kept this out of the news? If I had any money, then I'd be willing to bet some that they still haven't reported this 2000 appointment of Bush and the unelection of Gore. I wouldn't vote for and could never support him, because he is complicit in the Clinton administration's extreme crimes of war, against humanity, and against the population in the U.S.; but my opinion of him mustn't interfere with democratic principle. We can express our views or analyses about political candidates and office holders, as long as we do so in responsible ways, and that requires doing it in an integral manner. If we're to be for democracy, then we must support what it means to be democratic; unlike many Dem. Party supporters, the many who've atrociously or, rather, viciously refused to respect the democratic rights and dignity of supporters of Ralph Nader and other third-party candidates.

I wonder how many Dem. Party supporters realize, today, that Bush did not win in 2000 and that their candidate, Gore, did win.

We talked about how much easier it was to get people to take action against wars when they were Bush-Cheney wars, and how much harder it was to get people to oppose wars while supporting the face of the war machine.

The only way that I can understand the above is if "the face of the war machine" being supported is Obama and the Dem. Party that's in power. The face shifted from being the Bush-Cheney administration to the Obama-Dem. Party administration.

I assume that this is what's meant.

Nader said that he'd gotten into activism in the same way that my friend and I had. He said he had taken up the question of auto safety because he'd lost a lot of friends on the highway and was determined to find out why.

And he did find out why and fix it. And those who dreamed of reforming tobacco policy, and beginning arms control talks, and expanding civil rights did so.

The tobacco policy reform activists have acted poorly; very poorly. They didn't call for real reform, they called for fascist banning. Instead of demanding that the government make it a crime, a very serious crime for tobacco product manufacturers putting toxic chemicals in the products, the reform activists protested against tobacco pretty much entirely; neglecting the fact that pure and natural tobacco is hardly a killer and that it can be even good; just that like with anything else, abusive consumption is unhealthy.

Cubans are said to live to the oldest average age in the world, or close to the oldest, many living into their 90s, and both men and women smoke Cuban cigars; but their tobacco is not laced with toxic chemicals, unlike the products of U.S., Cdn, British, and probably also other European manufacturers.

To be an intelligent and non-fascist activist against the tobacco industry, the activists must demand the criminalization of toxic lacing of tobacco products, and for a ban on smoking in public establishments; such as in restaurants, shopping malls, et cetera, and in the work place. Or, if not the latter kind of banning, then certainly the former, and shoppers and people looking for jobs would just need to find malls and work places that were smoke-free, if and when other people smoking pure and natural tobacco was a problem to or for someone going shopping or looking for employment.

Pure and natural tobacco is not really a problem for the consumer. Toxically laced, poisoned and nicotene- or addictive-boosted tobacco products, however, are a serious problem for the consumer. And there's virtually no information at all on the packaging of tobacco products for informing consumers or potential consumers of the many toxic chemicals added to the products; but one I've recently seen listed on cig. packages is the very toxic formaldehyde. By far most of the chemicals used are not listed and the public is not informed about these chemicals from other sources.

What the hell is that shit doing in tobacco products meant for people to smoke and which people do smoke without being justly informed of the toxic chemicals? It's a very serious crime and the chiefs of the tobacco corporations doing this should be prosecuted, after which they would spend many years in prison; because ignorance is not a defense for them. They knew the chemicals were poisonous.

And they should also be prosecuted and given additional years of imprisonment for having made their products 4x more addictive than natural tobacco is!

But anti-tobacco activists don't want to commit themselves to intelligent and integral activism. Instead, they prefer the intellectually lazy way of fascism and using their ignorance and negligence against other people's rights.

It's a natural right to be able to consume pure and natural tobacco. It's no ones right to add toxic chemicals; it's a very serious or extreme crime. It's like mass murder, just that it's through the slow-death approach. Quick death would not be profitable; but quick or slow, these corporations are murderers, for lacing tobacco products with the chemical poisons natural tobacco doesn't have or come with.

It's good to see that he continues his activism.

And I'm surprised, a little, given his age, but he evidently is a very healthy individual.

Hopefully more people will politically support him if he runs in any future electoral campaigns. He'd be a real blessing for this country and this world, if he was supported and won. Of course that's assuming that he wouldn't then be assassinated; but I don't want to let that dark possibility interfere with justice and the curing of this sick society and government.


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