Sunday, November 9, 2008

Will the Real Ralph Nader Please Stand Up

Astronomers have recently reported that Ralph Nader's ego now exceeds the size of the known universe and is rapidly expanding. Nader's personality is seriously flawed, and those flaws effect Nader's viewsa on numerous subjects.

I have never been an admirer of Nader. I saw his attack on the Corvair as exceptionally dishonest. Nader had no evidence that the technologically advanced, economical and nimble Corvair was less safe than other American autos. Among the technologically advanced features the Corvair pioneered were turbo-charging which increased both engine power and fuel efficiency, four-wheel independent suspension and unibody construction.

Nadere attacked the Corvair for its former swing-axil suspension design, a suspension design it shared with many German cars including Volkswaagans, Porsche, and many Mercades-Benzes. Nader did not attack the German cars in his initial book. Rather he singled out Corvair suspension design features that General Motors no longer used in new Corvairs. There was no research that showed the Corvair to be less safe than other cars. In fact later testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ran the allegedly unsafe Corvair through a series of safety tests along side other economy cars, four contemporary cars, the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, Volkswagen Beetle, Renault Dauphine. Bob Helt report ef those tests showed that:
"The 1960-63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests...the handling and stability performance of the 1960-63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic."
I was already aware in the 1960's that Nader's attack on the Corvair was non-sense,and that Nader was assult on the auto industry was in no small measure self-aggrandizing. The auto industry has its flaws in the 1969's, and American cars were less safe than the could be, but Ford had tried to sell sefer cars in the 1950's and the safety approach had been rejected by a market that preferred larger cars with bigger engines, to safety features. Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed was not an attempt to wake the public up to to the need for safer cars, but was a ruthless and dishonest attack on the American auto industry simply because of its bigness.

Ralph Nader's 2000 Green Party presidential campaign probably cost AL Gore the election, and led to the Bush presidency. Nader, of course, recognized no personal responsibility for what happened. For Nader the Democrats were just as much tools of big business as Republicans, and a Gore presidency would have been just as bad as the Bush presidency even though Gore's views on environmental issues are closely aligned with those of the American Green Party, and Gore was one of the few vocal opponants of the war with Iraq.

Stories have long circulated that the staffs of Nader organizations are not exactly tributs to Nader's belief in racial equality. In fact the story goes that Nader selects white males from affluant backgrounds to serve on his organizations staff. I have no way of knowing if this story is true, but Nader has never been conspicuous in his associations with Afro-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.

Indeed, Nader has never performed significant services to the Civil Rights movement. He failed to oppose the 1996 California Proposition 209 that called for the repeal of California's affirmative action laws. Vanessa Daniel in a 2000 article in ColorLines noted Nader's failure to reach out to the black community, Daniel tells of an encounter between Nader and Afro-American community organizer Hop Hopkins noted that Nader failed to mention the problems of ethnic minorities in a Seattle speech on social issues. Hoopkins asked Nader How he expected to win black support in the 2000 election when he did not reach out to the black community. Nader replied, "you ask what I have done to reach out to the black community and address racial issues and I ask you, how many black people did you bring here today to hear me and support this campaign?"

Daniel commented:
Nader often speaks to problems that have their most devastating affects in communities of color. However, he almost never points to the racial dimensions of these issues. His silence is rendered more conspicuous by the sudden Republican and Democrat attention to the topic. Considering the fact that Nader works to appeal to an audience of "progressives," many of whom are people of color, his colorblindness, is also strategically shortsighted. . . .

In the past year, he has shied away from some of the most heated racial issues facing communities of color and been absent during difficult moments of national racial turmoil. He has yet to take a pro-active stance on the phony "war on drugs," racial profiling, militarization of the border, the incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the bombing of Vieques, the rise in police brutality and was absent following the acquittal of the four officers who slayed Amadou Diallo.
For Nader it seems, politics was not about offering services to people in need, it was about peoples willingness to offer their votes to him. Nader always has said the right things about race, but he nas never walk the walk on racial issues. In 2008 Nader's take on Barack Obama was all about how much Obama's message differed from Nader's. In June Nader said:
"There's only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He's half African-American," Nader said. "Whether that will make any difference, I don't know. I haven't heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What's keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn't want to appear like Jesse Jackson? We'll see all that play out in the next few months and if he gets elected afterwards."
Nader's attacks on Obama were far more ugly than those of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Indeed Nader's take on Obama had a decided Rush Limbsugh flavor:
"He wants to appeal to white guilt. You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as black is beautiful, black is powerful. Basically, he’s coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it’s corporate or whether it’s simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up.”
In a July news conference Nader alleged that Obama's political supporters were trapped in the Political Slavery", Obama and McCain, Nader alleged were "two crooked politicians in Washington". And criticsof his presidential candidacy are political bigots, "wittingly or unwittingly."

Considering exactly how crazy Nader's take on the 2008 election has been we ought not be shocked by this CNN interview:

I would like to distinhuish between the Ad Hominem fallacy and the legitimate use of personal attacks in argument. An Ad Hominem argument focuses on the person rather than the ideas he expressed. I do not regard criticisms of Nader as invalidating in any way invalidating his expressed views on nuclear power. But they do demonstrate that Nader is capable of making serious errors in his thinking and thus his views ought not to be given a free pass.

When we look at Nader's statements on nuclear power, we find the same disinformation techniques we find uses by Amory Lovins and other nuclear critics. For example, Nader states:
A serious nuclear accident could cost more than $600 billion in 2004 dollars.
This statement is followed by a reference to an Energy Information Administration document, "Analysis of Five Selected Tax Provisions of the Conference Energy Bill of 2003", but an examination of that document does not yield support for Nader's $600 Billion figure, or any discussion of the potential cost of a nuclear accident. Thus Nader offers no support fir his $600 billion accident cost figure.

Nader commits the usual mistake of confusing the "nuclear industry" with "the nuclear power industry" even though the two are not the same, thus supposed subsidies to the nuclear industry are not in most cases subsidies to the nuclear power idustry - that is subsidies to reactor manufactures or utilities that purchase and use electrical generating reactors. Nader cherry picks information to paint a far darker picture of nuclear safety and scurity than is warrented. In doing so Nader frequently refures to articles that no longer can be found on linked web pages. The Nader view also ignores articles that contridict the anti-nuclear party lione on the same web pages. Nader refers to the NRC attitude toward minor upgrades of electrical output capacity at nuclear plants - many as small as 2% - as
regulatory laissez-faire may be compromising the safety of these facilities.
despite the investment of millions of dollars by operators in justifying the upgrades to the NRC, and millions more spent by the NRC examinig the proposals.

An examination of the history of upgraded reactors indicates that in no case has public safety been compromised and in only a few have had any problems. Of course Nader picks out the problem cases which have longe since been corrected, as es evidence of the NRC's irresponsibility. Thus Nader presents no real evidence that safety of nuclear facilities is being compromised.

Nader makes an appeal by painting a disturbing picture of the consequences of a Terrorist attack on nuclear facilities, but ignores arguments that suggest the NRC has taken vigerous steps to increase the protection of reactors from terrorists attacks.

Nader raises the spector of nuclear proliferation, resorting to the usual ploy of suggesting that civilian power reactor technology and fuel recycling are major proliferation dangers. In doing so, he ignores the mounting evidence on how nuclear proliferation actually has occurred. Nader of course knows nothing of nuclear weapon technology, and the history of plutonium weapons. He does not know the difference between weapons grade plutonium and and reactor grade plutonium, and the fact that no country has ever produced a nuclear weapon from reactor grade plutonium.

Nader also objects to nuclear power because of the supposed issue of nuclear waste. Nader of course also objects to doing anything to resolve the issue, resorting to the usual anti nuclear ploys of arguing that reprocessing nuclear fuel leads to nuclear proliferation, that Yucca Mountain is too controversial, and that disposal in fast reactors is too expensive. There are of course lower cist alternatives that Nader did not mention. Disposal in CaNDU reactors that are no more expensive than Light Water Reactors, and disposal in Molten Salt Reactors like the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, which are potentially even cheaper.

Nader whole approach to nuclear power betrays little knowledge of the subject. He has cherry picked sources, looking for information that would support his contentions, while ignoring conflicting information. Nader shows no more understanding of topics like nuclear proliferation than he had for the safety of the Corvair, or for the concerns of the Afro-American community. Nader lives in a Manichaen world where the little guy, the citizen whose champion is Saint Ralph, is beset by evil big business. Nuclear power is part of the evil world of big business, and only harm can come for it. Saint Ralph is our first line of defense against the evil that nuclear power poses, and he is ever watchful against the danger. Thus Nader uses the limited information he has acquired about nuclear power to confirm his personal world view and his role in it,


Jason Ribeiro said...

Charles, once again you write a very interesting article, though it could use a pass or two with the spell check before it goes out ;)

Ralph Nader is, well, a bit of a strange guy. He seems to throw around the accusation of arrogance on the part of those in power. I find this ironic as he cannot see his own arrogance. He has never held a public office, never been married, is not admired as a moral leader, a poor public speaker; yet all of this does not register in his self reflection as a futile attempt at being president. He knows he won't win of course, but revels in the opportunity to get on camera and say something.

You're correct in his method of cherry picking, which a lot of anti-nuclear people do.

I've thought for a long time that Ralph was mentally unbalanced. Searching around, I found this essay and the online book to describe the personality type of the puritanical compulsive. I don't think Ralph is a religious man, but the description fits him to a T otherwise.

Charles Barton said...

Jason, I am trained in the DSM diagnostic system and I have an idea diagnosis for Nader, but I will not talk about it here. I Ralph Nader's sister Claire was one of my bosses during the year I spent at ORNL


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