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Good afternoon and welcome to today's meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California. I am Dan Ashley, anchor of the Bay Area's ABC7 News at 9:00 P.M. and at 11:00 P.M. each evening and the Commonwealth Clubs Quarterly Chair. It is my great pleasure to introduce our distinguished speaker Ralph Nader, Green Party Leader, former Presidential candidate and author of 'The Seventeen Traditions, his new work and the subject of a new documentary. It's a film on Ralph Nader's life and career. It's called "An Unreasonable Man". It premiers March 9th at the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley and the Lumiere at San Francisco - again that's March 9th "An Unreasonable Man" the new film. Ralph Nader was recently named by the Atlantic as one of the 100 most influential figures in American history. One of only four living people to be so honored. The son of immigrants from Lebanon, he has launched two major presidential campaigns and founded or organized more than 100 civic organizations. His groups have made an impact on tax reform, atomic power regulation, the tobacco industry, clean air, clean water, fruit safety, access to healthcare, civil rights, congressional ethics and more that we could possibly mention here. Our thanks to our speaker and please give him a very warm welcome today. We look forward a terrific discussion, Mr. Ralph Nader. Thank you very much Mr. Ashley, and ladies and gentlemen thank you for coming. So it's nice to be at the Commonwealth Club here in San Francisco with its storied history. This is not a book that - usually it's associated with my investigative activities. It was called, and it is called Seventeen Tradition. It's in part a love story for my mother and dad and my sisters and brother. In part an attempt to encourage other families to write down, record and pass on their own traditions of wisdom, insight, experience from their fore-bearers. And it was called the Seventeen Traditions, because its in 17 ways my mother and father raised us that we derived from thinking about it over the years. One of the stimuli for the book was having people all over the country in normal conversation, regret that they did not record or put down the experiences of their grandparents or great grandparents or great aunts or great uncles. And that is unfortunate, because if you take human history as a quantifiable amount of behavior, the vast portion of human history revolves around the family and family activities. History is written in one direction or another by actors who reflect how they were brought up. I know this from observing the Bush Family over the years. And it just so happens that in this book there is a story involving Senator Prescott Bush, who is the grandfather of the present President and a very tough father to his sons. So tough that George Herbert Walker Bush decided to pick up his young family and moved from Connecticut to the oil fields in Texas. We grew up to give you the landscape in a factory town of 10,000 people in North-West Connecticut, nestled in the Litchfield Hills. It had 10,000 people in 1900 and I think it has 11,000 people today. In 1900, they had about a 100 factories and small fabrication shops. Today it has about two. It has a major crossroads for two rivers. One is called the Mad River, well named, it is overflowed its banks up until 1955, several times and destroyed the main street, taken more than a few lives. The other river is the Still River, which is very still. It's well named. It and together with the Mad River were sewers for the factories, and the town up until the 1950's figured well they are both sewers why not dump the raw sewage in the rivers along with the chemical - sewers. We never grew up feeling that there were two rivers there. We couldn't wade in them, we couldn't fish in them. We certainly couldn't swim in them and we couldn't even sit by their banks and have lunch on the table. They were taken from us by these industries and we never really objected that much, because it was the price of having the industries there to power the factories into receive the waste which indicates that we have progressed since those days, because today more and more people wouldn't stand for something like that and if there were factories there they would be compelled to clean it up. It is interesting to grow up in a very contentious small town with a town meeting form of government New England town meeting. Half of the town was Republican, half Democrats. There were half Yankee fans, half Red Sox fans. And it was a town that just constantly argued with one another. It had 27 bars I think, more bars than any square yards in east of the Pecos. I just couldn't believe the number of bars and bars were not just places where people often got drunk. They were places where people talk politics. They talk sports. They bantered they weren't looking at screens 30, 40 hours a week. They were interacting with other human beings and so because of these floods my mother decided that no more procrastination on building a dry dam. Simple way to prevent a flood you build a dry dam little bit north of the town and the flood waters would back up. So she heard that Senator Prescott Bush was coming to town and she stood in line at the receiving a reception until she got up to him and he was shaking hands very fast and smiling, the way politicians do, and she shook his hand, she says, Senator Bush, we cannot have loss of life and property anymore, you've got to get the core of engineers to build the dry dam and he was ready to go to the next person, you know, hi, smile and she wouldn't let go his hand. And they were about 10 people watching this like tug-of-war until she got an answer, and he finally said, I will get you dry dam, and we got a dry dam and we never had a flood since the devastating Hurricane Diane of 1955. So her lesson to us was you very rarely get to meet politicians if you don't have money. But when you do meet them in the receiving line and you want an answer to your question and you start shaking hands with them, never let go. She was not an overtly aggressive person. Actually just very quietly persistent a woman of few words actually. The first tradition she taught us was learning how to listen, and she said to us, if you talk all the time, how you are going learn anything? And if you learn to listen and listening you will learn, and that really was a tremendous benefit to us, because we never dominated guests at the dinner table. We would be taken to town halls and town meetings and court rooms and we didn't fidget because we learn to listen, we learn to observe. We learn to ask questions of our parents after the events. Learning to listen also worked at the dinner table. We had a tradition of the family table where we had a lot of vibrant discussions because we weren't yanking all the time. We had an interaction. And sometimes of course we broke through with our excess of child enthusiasm reflected in saying that we didn't like what was on the table. My mother prepared us long time ago that we are too small to decide what we want to eat, we don't have the knowledge, but once in a while we would disagree with her. And I remember once when I was about seven or eight she put some vegetables that were not particularly attractive to me. I think it was maybe broccoli and salad and carrots and I remember radishes and I said, "I don't want to eat this. I don't want to eat these." And she said, "Eat them they are good for you." "I don't want to eat these." "Why don't you want to eat these?" "I just don't want to eat these." "Well Ralph" she says, looking at my eyes, "tell me you keep saying I don't like I don't want, who is I?" I said, "Me I'm Ralph." "No no no, when you say I don't know and I don't want to have this food who is I? Is I your liver, your kidney, your lungs, your heart, your brain? Who is I?" by this time I was totally flummoxed. So she gave me the answer. She said, "I know who is I, I is your tongue and you are turning it against your brain. Eat it." I think that's a keeper. That at anytime you have problems with little kids like that say, "Who is I?" and watch their expression their facial expression. Well, both mother and father had this uncanny ability to give us a memorable admonition lift, encouragement they just embedded itself in our memory. They came from Lebanon when they were 19 and they came from areas in Lebanon that had no electricity. So they have to have an oral tradition. They just remembered. Historical sagas which my mother would give to us in installments when we came home from school at lunch and there is - that's one of the traditions the visions of history and they also remembered memorized hundreds of problems and hundreds of little sayings by historic figures and so that that's the way they disciplined us with proverbs. They didn't say cut it out, stop it, don't do this, they basically floated this perfectly appropriate proverb which we often heard more than once that calmed us down and books have been written about the effective proverbs and what they mean and how they were created but they have stood the test for centuries. They have been honed almost to perfection and that's the way we were admonished. Now when that didn't work we were asked to stand in the corner next to the sewing machine turnaround look the wall and ponder our previous misbehavior. They didn't believe in corporal punishment. They thought that was an expression of failure on their part. Now, with a tradition of listening and a tradition of history it occurred to me not long ago that if my mother raised little George W. Bush we would not be in Iraq today. She would have thought him how to listen and she would have given him history. They never preferred one child over another almost became a family joke we would try to bait mother and dad to say one child is better than other because we knew they would never do that or narrowly and they knew the devastating scars that can imprint themselves on the dis-favored child. They had conflicts and arguments but almost never in front of us. They thought we wouldn't understand and we wouldn't respect them. So they worked out their differences in private. This contracted with some families in town where we would be visiting friends and there would be tremendous arguments sometimes throwing pots and pans at the fleeing husband out of the front door and that always appalled appalled us. If anything there is very minimal loss of temper at our household. By the way as far as proverbs are concerned couple of years ago I tried to figure out how many I knew from the American tradition and I couldn't get the past 20 couldn't get past 20 and I only got to 20 because of Ben Franklin . Penny saved is a penny earned. And I remember I had a an aunt in Lebanon who knew over a 1000 proverbs. She spoke in proverbs. It is just a lyrical sequence of one proverb after another. So I think the proverbial tradition is something that needs to be resurrected. But when we were having dinner together as a family there was no TV on there was no radio on and today millions of children spent 30 to 50 hours a week watching screens video, computer, television and as a result their their attention span is shrinking as we all know they get very agitated fast if they are asked to be patient and listen to a few paragraphs or few minutes from their immediate, friends or relatives and also they tend to be desocialized. They have separated themselves from history which is very unfortunate but I think in in a small way this book can help parents deal with so many things that they think are out of control these days including their children. My mother would say to other younger parents don't be afraid of your children. If you signal that you are afraid of your children there is going to be a balance of power shift very readily and you will become manipulated because the child is very alert to that and can work that attitude to his or her advantage without the proper judgment and context to temper the consequences. The the peer group was of interest that we call it a peer group now mother was very interested who our friends were she knew if we fell into wrong crowd then she would have some significant competition and so she would invite our friends to lunch or snack or one of her wonderful deserts in order to look them over and see if she approved of the relationship. And now of course the streets are pretty formidable competitors to parents but the earlier you reach a child she would say to her friends the less problems you are going to have so it was very important she did this without the benefit of reading Montessori to reach the child. Now in recollecting this, and it's a small book its only about 145 pages I thought I couldn't I couldn't recollect all of this but when you break it down into various categories like the tradition of scarcity, the tradition of education and argument tradition of discipline, the tradition of simple enjoyments then lot of recollections come into place. We rarely had commercial entertainment in our lives. We go to the movies once or twice a year at the local strand theatre or go to the Yankee game the Yankee stadium but mostly it was hiking, bicycling, gardening, playing with our puzzles and stamp collection and bantering a lot we really bantered. We love to kid our parents. They just they had such immediate funny responses and they of course kid at us a lot. But once a while they were serious when they were kidding and josh 10-years-old I came home one day and went to the backyard my father said, "Ralph, what did you learn today? Did you learn how to believe or did you learn how to think?" Did I think about that one? Because I remembered little events in my classrooms where I was literally told to believe something that was not accurate. Like, we don't have a public library we have a memorial private library. Because the teacher was saying we had a public library and I corrected her and I ended up on the dunce chair in front of the other children in the 3rd grade. One day we were all in the backyard, it was a beautiful spring morning and my mother said, "Okay, question time, how much a dozen eggs, a pound of butter, bushel of apples, loaf of bread?" Oh, we knew all the answers because we were restaurant family. I wondered why she asking us these simple questions and she paused and she looked out at sun and she said, "How much is that sunshine? Nice cool breeze isn't it, what's the prize of that? Look at the apple tree, what can you buy that for? And listen to those beautiful birds singing, Blue Jays, and Robbins, hmm, wonder what they cost?" And we we were sort of stunned. We just began to sink in and then sank in and she was telling us that there were very important things that don't have a price and they are not for sale. And later on in trying to discuss how our democracy deteriorated and how our government was taken over by corporate influence more and more every year and how our elections were debased with commercial cash. It occurred to me that that was true of our democracy. There were certain areas of our democracy that should never be for sale. Elections, politicians, government, teachers, childhood, child that is heavily commercialized now, direct marketing to children was unknown. And when I was a child except for bubblegum, now it's a $140 billion industry for children under 12, directly marketing to these children, sometime the smallest 3-years-old, things aren't good for them - like junk food, violent programming and violent toys by passing the parents and undermining parental authority. That's just one of the pressures that's coming in on families today. One of the the commercialization of childhood, the brute direct marketing with a coarseness that at times its staggering for the insensitivities displayed to our children who should be nurtured rather than exploited for the almighty profitable dollar. I remember once my mother wrote an article called "Touring your own hometown". It was a real eye-opener because afterwards she realized most people never visited factories. They never visited the drinking water purification plant. They wouldn't go down to the local courtroom which is a county courtroom at that time and sit in and watch the trials. And she said why not just tour your hometown. Well, one day my father said, jump in the car Ralph, I am going to take you on a tour and so he goes by the library and he goes by the hospital and he goes by the high school and he goes by the orphanage home and he goes by a park and he goes by a civil war monument - magnificent monument which is sketched in this book Seventeen Traditions. And each time he went pass one of these institutions he told me that they were established by private philanthropist in the town. Ms. Beardsley contributed $10,000 in 1900 to set up the Beardsley Memorial Library. And so he drove back home sitting in front of the curb and for a few minutes of silence and then he looked at me and he said, you know, there are at least a 100 families who are as rich if not richer in this town than these people. Imagine if they did the same thing. What kind of community we would be living in? Now he didn't let government off the hook. He was refusing to let the wealthy off the hook. And he developed one of his proposals in trying to deal with greed and power which he is always concerned about throughout history. He said, "Why not have an economic system characterized by limitation of wealth?" That is you can have unlimited income, but higher than $5 million you have to give away your wealth - the way these families did. And if you didn't it would be taxed away. Now this one was good for 20 years of argument in the family. I mean, we argued it by when we were in the 6th grade and then in high school and then in college when we were not really sophisticated, we try to analyze all kinds of ways that people would have this limitation of wealth and what would happen if they didn't give it to the right cause and all that. But what he was trying to convey to us was that family values are civic values, they moved into the civic community, you improve your community because you want to protect, nurture your family and give your children and your neighbors and your friends opportunities to fulfill life's possibilities in a more just community country and world, they didn't mark out, well, now its time to, you know, go down to the town meeting, it was just a flow from the family and by example we absorb that. The same is true for business values. In the restaurant my father fed a lot of poor people during the depression. He couldn't bear to turn them away. Some of you are too young to remember the horrible depression. To give you an example, there was 38 percent unemployment 38 percent unemployment. People would knock on doors almost starved for money, for bread loaf of bread or a piece of bread. And in that situation my father never made a mistake of defining charity only in soup-kitchen terms, you know, at the point of need. He defined charity as building charitable institutions like libraries for example and schools and historical societies in towns. He also defined that in ways or against his own business interests. People would say, you know, Mr. Nader, you keep talking controversially like this you are going to lose business. He say, I already have lost business but let me tell you something when I sailed passed the Statue of Liberty in 1912, I took it seriously, don't you? And then he turned the tables and he said, "Tell me do you love your country?" Damn right, lot of textile workers, all kinds of people came to the restaurant. He says, "Why don't you spend a little more time improving it?" To him the tradition of patriotism and to my mother was to improve your country, which means to improve your community. That was not flag-waving. Anytime anybody try to flag wave my father and say love it or leave it, go back where you came from, that just made his day. He had so many responses to that that just made his day. And my mother once said to me, "AJ, do you love your country Ralph?" I wonder why she was asking. I said, "Yeah, of course mother." She said, "Well, I hope when you grow up you work hard to make it more lovable." Now you see the kind of resistance to the exploitation of patriotic symbols that builds up, because patriotic symbols are often used by charlatans, political and corporate to shut people up, to chill people, to keep them from dissenting. And every social justice movement in our country started out with dissent including 1776 and the mother of ascent is dissent and has to be protected. And so my father would go right into the symbol when they played that game on him and that he would say, have you pledged allegiance to the flag? And they say, well, of course, done it in school all the time. I bet you haven't. Oh, just a moment. I find the last few words very attractive, could you tell me the last few words? And they would have to say with liberty and justice for all and he had them. He had the symbol and with liberty and justice and then he would conclude, remember those words, they are not with liberty and justice for some, they are not with liberty and justice for a few they are liberty, justice for all. Never had a high school education and therefore he was very keen with my mother of giving all the children the most education formal education. But he knew that we were instructed in school, but really educated at home. And our two older brother and sister were expected to teach the younger brother and sister. I was a baby in the family. And this isn't that we didn't derive wonderful things from our public schools. I remember in the fifth grade teacher walked in one day, she was Ms. Thompson, she puts on the blackboard - lost 60 seconds, don't bother looking for it, its gone forever. That was her way of teaching us not to procrastinate. And to this day, that is the most clearest thing I remember from my fifth grade class. My brother was a great teacher of his younger siblings. We lost him in 1986 to cancer. But he had already established founded a community college in Winsted which at that time was the low smallest - a town with a community college in the country. And he did it out of robust discussion in the restaurant until a small core of committed neighbors went forward with him to start this community college which in a way help saves the town town after all the factories were closed. But what I have to give you two examples of a kind of person he was. One day I was very nervous in the living room because I was preparing my eighth grade graduation speech and this is my first speech and I was just sweating I was anxious, I was almost trembling because I had to give the speech by heart and it was on John Muir, the great conservationist, I had chosen John Muir who established Yosemite national park and everybody here in California knows John Muir but in Connecticut they needed reminding, and so I was really very anxious and my brother came in and he said, "What's wrong Ralph?" He was just back from the Navy, he was about 20 - "Hey what's wrong Ralph?" "I don't know I am really nervous Shawn I don't know if I can do it and I am going to forget my words." He said look, "Have you ever heard of Igor Stravinsky?" I said, "Igor Stravinsky, what's this all about?" He said, "Well, he was a famous Russian composer and one day he composed a symphony called Rite of Spring and it was played before a critical precisian audience in Paris in 1912 and no sooner the symphony started playing when within three minutes there were grumbles in the audience and by five minutes there were catcalls and by about 10 minutes people were hurling things at the symphony and walking out." By this time I'm saying what this have to do with the 8th grade in Winsted, Connecticut? And he said to me, "Look, you are going to be standing before 500 people, there are your friends and neighbors and you know quite a few of them, don't worry, you stand up and make that speech, nobody is going to start to grumble, no body isn't going to start catcalls, nobody is going to throw tomatoes at you and nobody is going to walk out on you." He calmed me right down, I got up and I actually gave the speech and didn't forget a line, you know, I will never forget that. But there is something even more interesting that he did. He he brought home the encyclopedia Americana, we were all proud, well we got an encyclopedia 1947 edition. So he said, "Let's let's open it up to Hawaii." So you open up to Hawaii and under Hawaii it said the queen was overthrown in X year by the people and the people asked the United States to annex them. And as the people were led by a man named Dole, you know the pineapple, so he said he said, look at this he said, "Oh yeah, this is all fiction Ralph", he said they asked for the marines and it wasn't the people, it wasn't the native Hawaiians, it was a bunch of white planters and missionaries from the US. And I said to me so you mean an encyclopedia is not accurate? He said, don't believe everything you read, lets go and play ball. It was kind of I was lucky, very, very lucky. So let me end on a couple of notes here. We often are looking for active citizens, all of us when we have a particular drive we want to pursue, a change we want to make, grievance we want to resolve and you find out after a while that you can get them at marches and demonstrations, sometimes you find them, sometimes you find them by canvassing door to door, sometimes they actually find you out if they read about what you are doing, but we need a lot more citizens and we know if we had a million active citizens in this country who had the full deliberate intent an intensity and commitment as the leading birdwatchers in our country we transform the nation. Imagine 2000 congress watchers in every congressional district organized together. And I think we got to become much more self-conscious about family and not leave it just to some rightwing evangelical preachers who sometimes contradict their own precepts. We have to have more self-consciousness about families because the family is a critical unit. It has been a critical unit in every culture in the world. And its been buffeted and assaulted and undermined and weakened by an economic system that separates parents from children, longer and longer commutes, more and more hours of working, desperate attempt to pay bills, while the children are directly commercialized and marketed to with certainly contrary family values, commercial values. The child has been commodified. I think if we all put down our family traditions, I think if we develop a tradition of setting down our family traditions from our forebears and handing them to our children that there will be a much more calming effect, much more contemplative effect and a much richer upbringing. And in our family we were very fortunate that we had a mother and father who trusted their own judgment, even in a foreign culture that was new to them. They learnt from their children, they trusted their judgment, they informed and expanded their judgment as a result and they raised their children who reflected their sense of civic obligation and their sense that a society that has more problems than it deserves yet more solutions than it applies, is a society riven by a democracy gap that can only be fulfilled by people ordinary people doing extraordinary things as they have at the highest moments in our history over 200 years. Last point I can't do full justice to the stories in this book. Some of them are funny as most family stories are but we are going to establish a website called seventeentraditions.com inviting people to send us their traditions, so that they can save that wisdom and experience before it's too late, before they lose their grand parents. And and by sending us some traditions develop a practice to extend the wisdom of the ages so that children in a very fast paced society do not have to try to reinvent the wheel, thank you very much.