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Nader on Senate’s Climate Stance, "Insanity" of U.S. Nukes, & Why Obama’s Min. Wage Hike Falls Short

Ralph Nader, the longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate, joins us to discuss a number of key issues: the Senate’s marathon filibuster to promote climate action and attendant failure to challenge President Obama on the Keystone XL; new disclosures revealing U.S. regulators hid concerns and uncertainty around the safety of U.S. nuclear plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima crisis three years ago this week; and why he believes President Obama’s call for a $10.10 federal minimum wage falls well short of what workers deserve. Nader is author of the forthcoming book, "Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I wanted to ask you about the all-night filibuster staged by more than two dozen Senate Democrats Monday in order to urge congressional action on global warming. This is Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY: The planet is running a fever, but there are no emergency rooms for planets. We have to engage in the preventative care so that we deploy the strategies that make it possible for our planet to avoid the worst, most catastrophic effects of climate change.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Republicans dismissed the marathon session and called Democrats, quote, "alarmists." This came as the U.S. Department of Defense released a new report Monday about the threat climate change impacts pose to national security. Our guest is longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Ralph, could you respond to this?

RALPH NADER: Well, this is a welcome development. They went all night, led by Harry Reid and Senator Ed Markey in the U.S. Senate, making statements about the documentation for climate change, often called global warming, and the need for congressional action. But it’s got to go way beyond that. The Congress has been an immobile bubble in this whole swelling concern around the country, involving demonstrations and picketing and some lawsuits, but it hasn’t permeated Congress. And unless we can break through on Congress, very little is going to happen for a national conversion from fossil fuels and nuclear over into renewables and energy efficiency.

And the second point is this, that when you have very affluent people, like George Soros, Tom Steyer and Al Gore, who are really out front warning about climate change, when you have them, they’ve got to come and build a very powerful external lobby on Congress, where you have a hundred professional scientists, lawyers, organizers, public relations specialists descend on Congress every day in every member’s office, in the corridors, in the cafeterias, building a concern here. And if that doesn’t occur, it doesn’t matter how many demonstrations around the country are going to occur. There may be a few bits of progress here and there in state capitols, but the main blockage is Congress, which is in a bubble. It’s in a deadlock now. And we’re going to ask some of these affluent environmentalists to ante up and start a brand new group, so that Congress is literally as overwhelmed by people on this issue as they have been overwhelmed by the drug industry or the real estate industry or the oil industry.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, in this unprecedented action to promote climate action in the Senate, it took more than three hours for the first raising of the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline, which many environmentalists link to the issue of climate change. Democrat Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia made the demand, saying, "Why would we embrace tar sands oil and backslide to a dirtier tomorrow?"

RALPH NADER: Well, I think because the senators are concerned that some senators up for re-election in the Democratic category are going to be disadvantaged if the Senate Democrats make a big issue out of the XL pipeline. And I think the other read is that a lot of these senators think that President Obama is going to approve it. You know, half of the pipeline is already built in the southern sector. They’ve got the pipe, you know, piled up, ready to go. And it doesn’t look good for turning that pipeline down. But you never know what can happen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask you about the behavior of U.S. regulators in the days after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, which happened three years ago this week in Japan following a massive earthquake and tsunami. Internal emails revealed by NBC News show the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a concerted effort to downplay the potential of a similar crisis occurring on U.S. soil. The campaign included refusing to answer media questions on disaster preparedness, spinning journalists on key data, and even hiding Japanese engineers from reporters visiting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Maryland. An email from NRC Public Affairs Director Eliot Brenner, dated March 11, 2011, read, quote, "While one reporter knows or has guessed that there are Japanese here in our Ops center in communication with their home authorities, we will NOT make the[m] available and we will NOT volunteer their presence." The effort came despite widespread internal doubts over the safety of aging U.S. plants. In a memo to staffers about the agency’s public talking points, Brenner wrote, quote, "While we know more than these say, we’re sticking to this story for now." Ralph Nader, your response?

RALPH NADER: Well, this is a reflection of the deterioration of any semblance of regulation of the nuclear industry by the U.S. government, which guarantees the nuclear industry in so many ways—insurance, loan guarantees. This is an industry that would fall completely if it had to face free enterprise risk patterns. Unfortunately, there have been very few lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster, which has led to an uninhabitable region in Japan, over a quarter of a million people homeless or refugees, and still more tonnage of radioactive water pouring into the Pacific and even being seen on the West Coast in our country, in terms of detection. So, we have to phase out nuclear power as fast as possible, because many of the reactors are just like the Fukushima reactor designs, by the way, and they are near earthquake faults. Now, the Indian Point reactors, two of them, they’re aging. They’re 30 miles north of Manhattan. So, it’s not evacuable in case of an accident. I mean, New York City has trouble evacuating at rush hour time. So the condemnation of nuclear power is: It is uneconomic, it is unnecessary, it is uninsurable, it is unevacuable, and it is unnecessary. And the sooner we phase it out, the sooner we avoid the risk of rendering hundreds of square miles in our country radioactively uninhabitable.

It’s not worth the risk in order just to boil water. That’s what the nuclear plants are all built for. The whole risky nuclear fuel cycle, from the uranium mines and uranium [tailings] and spent fuel rods and radioactive waste and the security problems around nuclear power, it’s all designed just to boil water, to produce steam. What are our descendents going to think of us if we don’t move our energy technologies over to the best fusion reactor we’ll ever have, which is the sun, in its various manifestations—photovoltaics, thermal heat, wind power, etc., plus enormous advances in efficiency? As the Ayres brothers have pointed in one of their recent books, we are on a policy, Amy, that can be called technological insanity. The first priority is to shut down those aging nuclear plants in our country that are near mass population centers. Already nuclear power cannot compete with natural gas. It requires 100 percent government loan guarantees. Some plants have been shut down, like San Onofre in California. Others are being mothballed. The industry is in decline, regardless of its propaganda—

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Ralph—

RALPH NADER: —but it needs to be removed.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Ralph, as you point out, the Obama administration has approved $6.5 billion in loan guarantees to back the construction of the nation’s first new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years, the one that’s currently under construction in Waynesboro, Georgia, the announcement coming as the administration investigated a radioactive leak at a nuclear waste site in New Mexico, at the WIPP site. Why is President Obama doing something that Bush never would have dared to because of the backlash he would have faced, which is push forward on this new construction for the first time in almost 40 years?

RALPH NADER: Because his energy policy, number one, is cowardly. He’s wedded to this "all of the above"—you know, coal, nuclear, solar, conservation, oil, gas. Not all energy systems are the same, as we all know. They have different consequences, different prices, different disrespect or respect for posterity. The second is that he is surrounded not only by the nuclear industry, by the hypocritical Republicans in Congress, who say they believe in the free enterprise system, and they’re basically supporting a 100 percent taxpayer-guaranteed technology in building these nuclear plants in Georgia and elsewhere, which will take years, if ever, before they—before they open. So, Barack Obama is stuck with this "all of the above." He’s got to get out of it, if he believes in the national security of the United States. Nuclear power and nuclear power hazards and risks, spent fuel rods and pools around these plants, and just the very risk itself, in case of an earthquake or other disaster, is a major national security peril—a major national security peril—and Barack Obama has got to face up to it.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ralph, the issue of minimum wage—do you support President Obama and his push to increase it in the executive order that would pay at least federal workers $10.10?

RALPH NADER: No, because it’s too small. I support a really ambitious goal. Listen to this, to show you how far we’ve gone backwards into the future. Giving 30 million workers a wage today equivalent to what workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation, would have been $10.90 an hour. That’s 30 million workers who will get a raise. They’ll spend the money. It’ll be an economic stimulus, will bring it up to, you know, Ontario or other Western countries that are way ahead of us in minimum wage, and will reflect the opinion of over 80 percent of the American people, including a majority of Republicans around the country and Southern whites that were polled around the country, that are for an inflation-adjusted minimum wage, so people can provide some of the barest necessities for their family and their children. So President Obama’s $10.10—over three years, mind you; it doesn’t kick in totally until 2017 or so—is not enough, because by the time that comes, the $10.10 is not worth $10.10—it’ll be further eroded by inflation.

I think California is going to lead the way with conservative Ron Unz, who’s in the process of putting on the ballot a $12 California minimum wage. And his argument, from a conservative point of view, to show you how we’re seeing a left-right coalition on this issue as well as others, as reflected in my new book—his argument is: The more people get the wage they deserve, given the huge wage increases for the bosses of these corporations—$10,000-$11,000 an hour for the head of Wal-Mart—the less they will have to rely on food stamps, housing assistance, Medicare and other public welfare support. So from a conservative point of view, people are saying this is good because it saves taxpayers’ dollars. Taxpayers should not subsidize the wages of Wal-Mart workers; Wal-Mart should pay workers at least what Wal-Mart workers got 46 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Our website is timeforaraise.org, for more details.

And I might say, it’s easier than we think, Amy. It’s really easier than we think to turn this country around on one issue after another. Less than 25,000 people in the last year and a half, some of them picketing McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, some of them doing research, some of them writing articles, some of them lobbying state legislatures, city hall and Congress, have turned the minimum wage into what is now the number one economic policy advocacy for the Democratic Party putting the Republicans on the defensive. Just 25,000 people, less than the population of Torrington, Connecticut. I want to convey, it’s easier than we think to turn our country around, whether it’s energy, whether it’s anti-poverty, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s electoral reform. Stop thinking we’re powerless. We start with our Constitution: "We the people." It doesn’t start with "We the corporation." Corporations are never mentioned in the Constitution. Why are they ruling us? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we want to thank you for being with us, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate, author of many books. His latest book that’s coming out in April is called Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State

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