transcript of the 2/13/02 Jon Stewart 'Daily Show' interview with
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Jon: Well the situation with Enron is
precisely the type of thing my guest tonight has been speaking about
for years. He's a former presidential candidate, and the author
of the new book "Crashing the Party", please welcome Ralph Nader.
Thank you for joining us.
Ralph: Thank you.
Jon: When you saw the Enron debacle unfold, the first
emotion was 'I told you', was it bemusement, was it anger, what
went through your head when you watched this thing unfold?
Ralph: Just the latest volcano of corporate crime, fraud,
Jon: The latest.
Ralph: The latest. It's the biggest one ... so far ...
and, you know, it's not something that hasn't been reported on ...
Business Week, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, they've all
reported on company after company ripping off its pension holders,
ripping off its investors, ripping off the government for corporate
subsidies, handouts, giveaways.
What's great about Enron is it was hypergreed, in all directions,
tentacles into Republican-Democratic party politicos, ripping off
all those workers, many of whom listen to Rush Limbaugh every day,
and they finally got a little Realpolitik about corporate crime,
'Crime in the Suites' we call it.
Jon: Right-right-right, so you were surprised.
Ralph: No, I wasn't surprised.
Jon: Is this ... you see this as symptomatic then of
something much deeper underneath, obviously campaign finance reform.
But would that be a salve for this kind of an issue, or not?
Ralph: Well, there are a lot of holes that have to be
plugged here. I mean, congress is about to pass this, maybe, this
Sheas-Meehan campaign finance bill ...
Jon: That was today, they were supposed to vote on it
Ralph: ... and, or maybe tomorrow, but they, you know,
billions of dollars in the last decade have been spent on soft money.
Soft money means you can give unlimited contributions from corporations
to political parties even though it's illegal for corporations under
federal law to give to candidates, but look at all the watchdogs
who were anesthetized, who should have spotted the En...
Jon: OK, who were the watchdogs?
Ralph: The Board of Directors ...
Jon: OK, at Enron ...
Ralph: Yeah, at Enron, who were wined and dined, given
all kinds of stock, given all kinds of thousands of dollars to sit
at these meetings and sleep in front of these big briefing books
Jon: Now, how do I get a gig like that because that
actually sounds ... so these guys, their oversight is basically
for show ...
Jon: They are basically there to provide prestige to
a certain extent ...
Ralph: And to rubber-stamp multimillion dollar compensation
packages for Ken Lay and all the other guys ...
Jon: Golden parachutes, etc., OK.
Ralph: Then you had the accounting firms, like Arthur
Anderson. They were asleep at the switch. ...
Ralph: An Accounting 101 student would have spotted
some of these shenanigans.
Jon: But this is, now, this is the issue that gets to
me. People keep saying people were asleep at the switch. To my eyes,
they weren't asleep, they were complicit. They were 'not missing
it', or it wasn't oversight, this was premeditated, this was fraud.
Ralph: Yes, self-administered Valium ...
Ralph: In return for big bucks.
Ralph: In the corporate law firms, they're supposed
to be, you know, watching out, and they look the other way in return
for big bucks. And then you have the state accounting certification
commissions that's supposed to pull the license of crooked ...
Jon: Now, who's in charge of the state accounting commissions?
Ralph: Those are state regulators in every state.
Ralph: And when was the last time you heard one of these
guy's license being pulled?
Jon: Oh, I can't not hear it. I can't turn around. You
can't throw a dead cat without these guys losing their license around
here. No, I'm ... I didn't even know they existed.
Ralph: And then you got the state and federal cops on
the corporate crime beat. You know, they're basically told by the
politicos in Washington and Austin and elsewhere, 'lay off' - 'don't,
you know', 'lay off Lay, so to speak'.
Jon: So this seems intractable ...
Ralph: Yes ...
Jon: This seems ... intractable ...
Ralph: That's why it's systemic, when you asked 'is
this systemic?' The whole system of trust and watchdogism has collapsed,
and guess who pays the penalty, obviously, it's the working stiff,
the pension holder, the small investors 'cause the big guys sold
out ahead of time.
Jon: Right, can they go to jail? At this point ...
Ralph: There's one way to improve the food in the prisons,
Jon, and that is to send these corporate crooks to jail.
Ralph: They won't stand for this crummy food.
Jon: But they don't go to real prison, they don't go
to Oz, they go to tennis club prison, they go to let's play polo
and ride a horse and conjugal visit prison. They don't go to real
Ralph: Yeah, they go to country club prisons like this
one in Pennsylvania, you know, they have golf courses and ...
Jon: So, would you recommend, let's just start this
at the very end of the rung here. Let's change the system, forget
about all the intractable conflict of interest and the subversion
and the tentacles. Let's make 'em go to real real prison with people
that want to kiss 'em.
Ralph: Yeah, right ... or, you know, have two year sentences
next to some guy who's in the pokie for ten years for forging a
three hundred dollar check.
Jon: Yeah, exactly. Can, could that be our first line
of defense? Let's really ratchet up, let's make it as bad as selling
mushrooms at a Fish concert.
Ralph: Yeah, but of course.
Jon: Let's really make this a crime.
Ralph: And also, they ought to pay back all their hundreds
of millions. Clean 'em out. Make that money go back to the workers,
the pension holders, and investors. A lot of
these guys go to jail, but they still have 700 million dollars stashed
had one guy actually tell me, a lawyer once, he told me, you know,
'I've got corporate clients who say they'll go to jail for six months
if they can get away for 30-40 million dollars.' That's pretty good
Jon: I would do that.
Ralph: You get health insurance in jail.
Jon: You know what's weird?
Ralph: You get health insurance in jail.
Jon: That actually sounds like a new Fox game show.
You go to jail and get out with 30 million dollars. We'll be right
back after this.
The book is "Ralph Nader - Crashing the Party". This basically
documents the run for president.
Ralph: The whole run for president. It's a real cool
book. If you want to read a book on politics, read it. You'll see,
it's really directed to the young people in this country. Starts
out that way, it ends up that way.
Jon: It's spelled phonetically, very easy to get through.
Ralph: You got to change the system, it's crumbling,
our democracy is crumbling, we've got all kinds of poverty and injustice,
we should be ashamed of ourselves, we've got to roll up our sleeves.
Jon: That, my question is about, you know, it's all
about participatory democracy ...
Jon: But isn't the whole reason to elect officials so
that we can go off, and have our lives, and mow our lawns, and paint
our houses, and they take care of our interests? I don't know how
participatory I want to be. I like TV and games and things.
Jon: I'm nervous that I'm not going to have the right
stuff to be in the world you like.
Ralph: Well, you know, if ... that's the way the theory
works, you know, that we elect these guys, the best person wins,
that isn't the way the practice works, because corporate power is
such they've got the grab hold of government and turned against
its own people, they've got the grab hold of government so all kinds
of freebies from the taxpayers are flowing to these companies ...
Jon: Is it that Machiavellian ... is it ...
Ralph: Oh sure, and it's called 'strategic planning'
Jon: There's a name for it?
Ralph: Well, of course. Corporations are planning our
future. They're planning our political, economic, environmental,
genetic, privacy, you name it.
Ralph: That's what they're doing. They want to own our
genes. They're going to own your genes, Jon. What are you selling
Jon: You know what? If you want 5-6 with goiters, you
got it. It's up to you. Take whatever you want out of my genes.
Ralph: This is completely unrehearsed, by the way.
Jon: Yes, exactly.
Ralph: And also the stories of Annie de Franco, and
Willie Nelson ...
Jon: People who came out to support you.
Ralph: ... and Eddie Vedder ... who held these great
rallies with us, filling Madison Square Garden ...
Jon: The WEF protest, are these the kinds of activists
that are also involved with your group?
Ralph: A lot of them are, yeah. These are people against
Jon: Now, they're against it. I consider myself relatively
aware of what's going on. I cannot tell you what they want. I know
they have large puppets. I know they're mad. I know they enjoy the
But I don't know, I don't know what they want, and that, to
me, that is, that's a real issue 'cause they have a beef but it
doesn't seem that they're that concise and that organized with it.
Ralph: Actually, well, the reason that they have puppets
is it's the only way they can get on the press or get a photograph
in the newspaper. They've learned that. But, what they want is democracy.
They don't want corporate government, corporations supporting
dictators and oligarchs abroad and selling them weapons which we
subsidize as taxpayers.
They want more attention to farmers, workers, peasants, public
health, global infectious disease, problems dealt with ...
Jon: Boy, these guys are downers - these people ...
Ralph: It's the old fight for democracy against autocracy,
that's what it's really all about.
Jon: But the interesting thing is actual democracy,
I wonder if they'd really want it, and my question is this, you've
traveled the country ...
Jon: These kids really are a minority in this country
and if there were true democracy, Matlock would be on seven times
a week, you know, the people have spoken to a certain extent. They
love McDonalds, they love Starbucks, I wonder would they really
want to live in a democracy.
Ralph: I think they want a safe and clean environment,
they want a living wage if they work every day full-time. I think
they want their taxes to be used for serious purposes like clinics
and affordable housing, not stadiums and ballparks.
think they want our country to wage peace and support peace efforts
around the world.
Jon: You think we have the ability to do all this. I
mean this is very idealistic.
Ralph: It's not idealistic. Our forebears overcame enormous
How would you like to be an abolitionist against slavery when
the cotton plantations ruled the south or how would you like to
fight for women's right to vote or if trade unions
Jon: You see this as dire a fight as even slavery?
Ralph: Well there's a new kind of slavery. They used
to own people, now they're gonna own our genes, they're gonna own
the genetic inheritance of the world, the plants, the flora, the
Jon: But in terms of even the founding, but even the
founding fathers, you know, slavery they never even addressed. They
knew it was an issue, but you had guys that they basically tabled
it for ...
Ralph: A compromise ...
Jon: A compromise to keep the Union together.
Ralph: They did, they did, some of them really did condemn
it, but they knew the south would never go along, so what did they
do? They allowed the Constitution to be amended, to be perfected,
and we ended up with an amendment that abolished slavery.
Jon: And so the Constitution now, which was there to
protect us, is now being hidden behind to keep this whole thing
going is what you're basically suggesting?
Ralph: But the important thing here, the important thing
here is there were so many issues that were never discussed on that
hooked up thing called the presidential debate commission which
is a private corporation created by the two parties to exclude all
Jon: What would you do ... who would you ...
Ralph: I would have asked Bush and Gore 'Why are you
supporting the prohibition of the most versatile plant in the history
of the world, industrial hemp, that could produce food, fuel, clothing
Jon: Whoa, whoa, what the hell ... wait a minute ...
Ralph: It has nothing to do with marijuana ... It's
one-third of one percent THC. Clinton and Bush ...
Jon: One-third of one percent.
Ralph: ... Clinton and Bush could smoke a bushel a day
and they wouldn't get high, even if they inhaled.
Jon: You really have been hanging around the kids, haven't
Ralph: Five thousand years ago, the ancient Chinese
grew it. Jefferson grew it. Washington grew it. I mean, what's the
big deal? American flags early on were made of it.
Ralph: The Declaration of Independence. It could get
rid of chlorine and paper (?) ...
Jon: Wouldn't it be great if it were still made of it,
and then when the Iranians burned it, they just got high and mellow?
We've gotta go. I could talk to you all day about this stuff
Ralph: Why not?
Jon: Because I have corporate sponsors. I'm a whore.
It's nice to see you. It's nice to see your passion remains
undimmed and that you're still fighting the good fight. And it's
a pleasure to have you on the program.
Ralph: Thank you. Stay in touch with us.
Jon: "Crashing the Party" - (?) the web site - Ralph
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