FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Many Americans Are Alive Today Thanks to Ralph Nader?

by CLANCY SIGAL

You’re driving at night in a General Motors compact car, a Cobalt or Cruze or Ion, and without warning the brakes, gas pedal and airbag suddenly give out.  You hurtle into a tree and kill yourself.   The police and forensic experts are in the dark about what happened and why.  Your family asks questions, the auto company responds with a formulaic letter.   What, who me?  Sorry, could be any of a thousand unfathomable reasons, probably your husband, son or daughter was drunk and not paying attention.

If your family persists, GM lawyers come after you with threats to bankrupt you with legal costs.  If you dare to hire an aggressive lawyer, GM quietly settles for an amount that is secret so that other, bereaved families won’t know that they’re part of a deadly, long term corporate conspiracy to keep killing motorists .

The crime scene as of now, taken from wire services, the NYTimes, WashPost, Reuters and Center for Automotive Safety:

Since 2004 – TEN YEARS AGO – General Motors has known they have a deadly problem in the guts of their small cars like the Cobalt built with UAW union labor in Lordstown, Tennessee.  The “switch plunger” is so poorly designed that if your car key is on a heavy key chain or you’re a short person, the key easily slips to the “accessory/off” position or even locks thus paralyzing your brakes, gas pedal and undeployable air bags.

After at least nine “internal studies” the company knew it had a big problem about a faulty doohickey which it kept secret from its customers and, given its clumsy bureaucracy, possibly even from itself.  To those customers who stayed alive to complain, GM quietly offered loaner cars. The main thing was to avoid law suits while not admitting or fixing the problem.

Glance at the diagram below (I hope it’s there) which shows both the old and new versions of the cheap critical component that, in its original design, simply was too short by 1.6 millimetres –  the difference between life and death.

Its corporate back to the wall, sheer accumulation of deaths and accidents has forced GM to recall 1.6 million of its compact cars that are too unsafe to drive. To be precise, the Chevy Cobalt, Pontiac Pursuit, Pontiac Solstice, Pontiac G5, Saturns Ion and Sky.  Plus a just-announced additional recall of almost one million small cars, plus 490,000 trucks and 172,000 more compact cars, meaning the automaker has now recalled almost five million vehicles in the United States during the first three months of the year, six times the number of vehicles it recalled in all of 2013.

Advice: if you own a GM compact get a qualified mechanic to check your ignition to see if it’s one of the older switches; if you must drive, use a single key unattached to a multiple key ring; barring that, grow half a foot or more.

Rep. Diane DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, calls for owners of these “terrifying” cars to stop driving them until they can be fixed,  meaning installing the improved ignition switch, a repair that costs the astronomical sum of $30.  Who pays for your loaner while your car is in the garage?

Legal note: the Obama administration’s 2009 bankruptcy bailout of GM stipulates that all product liability lawsuits filed on behalf of the injured or killed for crashes prior to 2009 are null and void.

Two shadows hang over this scandal: Kitty Genovese and Ralph Nader.  In 1964 Ms. Genovese, a 29-year sports bar manager in Queens, New York, was stabbed to death while, allegedly, 38 neighbors heard her screams but refused to get “involved”.   The actual facts turned out to be more complicated, but the “Genovese syndrome” passed into social psychology textbooks which, clearly, were not read by the folks at General Motors.

What stands out starkly is that for ten years masses of GM employees – lawyers, sales and service technicians, engineers, product development designers, ordinary Cobalt workers on the assembly line, knew, or had to have known, or suspected, or whispered among themselves about the killer ignition switch.   At the crudest level when a GM worker bought one of these cars at a company discount and discovered the problem, how come he or she didn’t gossip about it?  And if they did, who listened?

As far as we know, nobody blew a whistle.  No one screamed bloody murder.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was practically invented by Ralph Nader’s crusade for safer cars, had a “massive information breakdown” by stonewalling, misreading, misrepresenting and ignoring reports of malfunction.   Parenthetically, via the revolving door, I wonder how many retired NHTSA employees went to work for the auto makers they are supposed to regulate?

For many American liberals Ralph Nader is Judas for “spoiling” the 2000 presidential election with his 537 Florida votes and thus handing the White House to Cheney and Bush.  We now know that GM’s malfeasance killed, officially 13 people and probably many more than the 300 cited by the Center for Auto Safety.  How many thousands of Americans are alive today because of Ralph Nader and his Raiders’ tenacious battle for safer cars (seat belts, air bags, sturdier chassis etc.)?

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail