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Ralph Nader criticizes US response to Israel-Hamas war, 'internet gulag' of social media, and more

FILE, 2019: Ralph Nader speaks to members of the media outside a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on “The Boeing 737 MAX: Examining the Design, Development, and Marketing of the Aircraft.”
Alex Wong
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FILE, 2019: Ralph Nader speaks to members of the media outside a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on “The Boeing 737 MAX: Examining the Design, Development, and Marketing of the Aircraft.”

Before Ralph Nader began his crusade for consumer and civic rights, and well before his controversial presidential runs, the advocate and author enjoyed a peaceful, though politically-engaged, childhood in Winsted, Connecticut.

"We were given solitude, and we weren't over-programmed, over-scheduled,” Nader recalled. “We were allowed to lie on the grass and look up at the trees and watch the squirrels and the butterflies, and at night, look at the stars in the Milky Way and walk through the meadows. It's very important for a young child."

The importance of his small-town upbringing was one of many topics the 89-year-old recently discussed with Connecticut Public’s “Where We Live.” He also discussed his new book, “The Rebellious CEO: 12 Leaders Who Did It Right,” in which he shares uncharacteristic praise for a select few American business leaders.

Here are some interview highlights.

President Joe Biden ‘ignores key issues’ in Israel-Hamas war, Nader says

In an Oct. 24 letter to President Joe Biden, Nader and co-author Bruce Fein called on Biden to reconsider support for Israel. Nader condemned the “Hamas-led homicide-suicide massacre,” but described the U.S. response to the Oct. 7 attack as “profoundly imbalanced and misconceived” and said more money needs to be allocated to alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis affecting Palestinians in Gaza.

Biden has since issued a “form-letter” response that “completely ignores key issues in our letter,” Nader said.

While on "Where We Live," Nader described Gaza’s humanitarian crises and said criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war should not equate to de facto antisemitism, a debate that has been dividing some Democrats in Congress.

“It’s disgraceful that describing an ongoing genocidal devastation of the defenseless civilian Palestinians” is seen as “antisemitic,” Nader said. Instead, he said, free exchanges of ideas over the conflict need to continue, in the public and in politics.

“We have to focus on Senator [Richard] Blumenthal and Senator [Chris] Murphy and Congressman John Larson and others and say: 'Go for a ceasefire now, stop the slaughter, and start negotiations for a two-state solution,” Nader said.

After stepping back from the Winsted Citizen, Nader says there’s ‘plenty of rich money’ in Connecticut for journalism ventures

Earlier this year, a flurry of headlines announced a new local newspaper out of Winsted, founded with help from hometowner Ralph Nader. When Nader appeared on “Where We Live” in February, he said the Winsted Citizen would be a non-profit newspaper funded by subscriptions, advertisements and donations.

But by November, funding for the new venture appeared to have fallen apart and the paper reportedly “succumbed to financial woes.”

Within days, the paper was purchased by a national chain.

Leadership at the paper was critical of Nader and overall financial support for the newspaper, which reportedly struggled to obtain a continued source of funding.

“It was underfunded,” Nader said, “I didn't think that they had to rely on subsidies.”

He went on to list some of the standing efforts to ameliorate steep losses to local journalism, including “several major foundations” and local efforts in Connecticut, such as the Redding Sentinel, which was founded by journalist Susan Clark in her hometown.

“I think there's plenty of rich money around, plenty of foundations that can subsidize these [outlets] beyond their advertising and subscription revenue,” Nader said. “But it does take mobilizing the readers, they've gotten used to not having newspapers, that means there's less voter turnout, there's less turnout at public meetings, it degrades democracy.”

Later in the hour, Nader reflected that “democracy starts with civic engagement by ordinary people beginning to do extraordinary things. And if they do not have a voice in the media, the media is shutting down the fountainhead of democracy.”

Can a third-party candidate ever succeed in an election?

Nader, who ran as a third-party presidential candidate multiple times, said third-party candidates can push major party politics in new directions and that voters want more choice.

But he spoke to the difficulties third-party candidates face, and as he sees it, the efforts to “block us from giving people more choices and voices.”

“As I know better than most people from experience, the state laws are very inimical to third parties getting their candidates on the ballot,” Nader said.

“I think anybody who wants to start a party should have the right to do so in the United States of America,” Nader said. “It’s part of free speech. Assembly and petition is the consummate use of the First Amendment.”

As for 2024, Nader says, “The worst thing is to stay home and drop out of democracy.”

What industry is most comparable to the auto industry in the ‘60s? 

The pharmaceutical industry, Nader quickly responded.

"They are minimally regulated, they're tremendously profitable, and they charge the American people and families the highest prices for their medicines in the world. That's some gratitude. They were born in the U.S. – Merck, Eli Lilly, and others – they rose to prominence in the U.S., and they started selling abroad.”

What oversights would he like to see around Big Tech companies?

Nader didn’t mince words in describing the deleterious effects of Silicon Valley on American culture – particularly children and teenagers.

“There's something serious when our children are not spending time in reality,” and “operating in this commercial internet gulag that is designed to maximize the profits and shares of these corporations.”

Earlier this year, Connecticut joined dozens of other states in suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, alleging the company knowingly designed and deployed harmful features on its platforms to addict children and teenagers.

“When I was growing up, companies didn't dare directly market to kids, except maybe for bubble gum. They would never circumvent parents.” Now, Nader said, this is a lucrative industry.

“So the first thing is to protect our children. The second is full disclosure: What are these algorithms? Who created them? What are the internal company studies” that might prove “they're harmful to people and not just children?”

Listen to the full interview: Ralph Nader discusses his new book, 'The Rebellious CEO,' and much more

Connecticut Public's Catherine Shen contributed to this report.

Katie is a producer for Connecticut Public Radio's news-talk show 'Where We Live.' She has previously worked for CNN and News 8-WTNH.

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