Is Corporate Criminal Law Heading for Extinction?

By Ralph Nader

Crimes without criminals was not a subject for study when I was in law school. The two were seen as part of the same illegal package. That was before notorious corporate lawyers and a cash register Congress combined to separate economic, health and safety crimes from corporate accountability, incarceration and deterrence.

Lawlessness is now so rampant that a group of realistic law professors, led by Professor Mihailis E. Diamantis of the University of Iowa Law School, claim there is no corporate criminal law. I say “realistic” because their assertion that corporate criminal law, does not in fact, exist is not widely acknowledged by their peers.

Most Americans know that none of the executives on Wall Street who are responsible for the lies, deception, and phony investments they sold to millions of trusting investors were prosecuted and sent to jail. “They got away with it,” was the common refrain during the 2008-2009 meltdown of Wall Street that took our economy down and into a deep recession that resulted in massive job loss and the looting of savings of tens of millions of Americans.

Not only did the Wall Street Barons escape the Sheriff but they got an obedient Congress, White House and Federal Reserve to guarantee trillions of dollars to bail them out, implicitly warning that the big banks, brokerage firms and other giant financial corporations were simply “too big to fail.” They had the economy by the throat and taxpayer dollars in their pockets. Moreover, Wall Streeters made out like bandits while people on Main Street suffered.

All this and much more made up a rare symposium organized by Professor Diamantis last year at Georgetown Law School. (See: https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/imagining-a-world-without-corporate-criminal-law-symposium/). He wrote that the “economic impact of corporate crime is at least twenty times greater than all other criminal offenses combined,” quoting conservative estimates by the FBI. It’s not just economic, he continued: “Scholars, prosecutors and courts increasingly recognize that brand name corporations also commit a broad range of ‘street crimes’: homicide, arson, drug trafficking, dumping and sex offenses.”

The litany of corporate wrongdoing ranges from polluting the air and drinking water, dumping microplastics that end up inside human beings, promoting lethal opioids that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, providing millions of accounts or products to customers under false pretenses or without consent, often by creating false records or misusing customers’ identities, (Wells Fargo), manufacturing defective motor vehicles, producing contaminated food, allowing software failures resulting in crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX’s with 346 deaths. (See, Why Not Jail? By Rena Steinzor).

People don’t need law professors to see what’s happening to them and their children. People laugh when they hear politicians solemnly declare that “no one is above the law,” extol “the rule of law” and “equal justice under the law.”

By far the greatest toll in preventable fatalities and serious injuries in the U.S. flows from either deliberate, negligent or corner-cutting corporate crime under the direct control and management of CEOs and company presidents, many of whom make over $10,000 an hour over a 40-hour week.

Five thousand people a week die in hospitals due to “preventable problems,” documents a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study. The EPA estimates some 65,000 deaths a year from air pollution; OSHA has estimated about 60,000 work-related fatalities from diseases and traumas in the workplace. This carnage does not include the far greater numbers of people suffering from illnesses and injuries.

This range of corporate destruction was pointed out thirty-four years ago by Russell Mokhiber in his classic book, Corporate Crime and Violence: Big Business Power and the Abuse of the Public Trust (Sierra Club, 1988).

What are Congress and the White House saying and doing about this growing corporate crime wave? Saying little and doing almost nothing. Corporate criminal law enforcement budgets are ridiculously paltry. The Department of Health and Human Services recovers less than three percent of the estimated $100 billion a year stolen from Medicare and Medicaid. There are too few cops on the corporate crime beat and the White House and Congress are unwilling to remedy this problem.

Congress doesn’t hold broad hearings on corporate crime, except when a dustup gets headlines like the recent contaminated baby formula from the unsanitary Abbott factory in Sturgis, Michigan.

This is remarkable because since January 2021, two of the rare outspoken lawmakers against corporate criminality, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), both are chairs of subcommittees in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There are large gaps to be filled and updated in the inadequate federal corporate criminal law. Some regulatory agencies, such as the FAA (aviation) and NHTSA (auto safety) have no criminal penalty whatsoever for willful and knowing violations that directly result in fatalities.

Then there is the patsy Department of Justice (DOJ). For years we’ve asked DOJ officials to ask Congress to fund a corporate crime database (like the street crime database). Attorney General Merrick Garland won’t even respond to letters about this issue. For years, specialists like Columbia Law professor John Coffee have been urging the DOJ to stop settling the few cases they bring against corporate crooks with weak “deferred prosecution agreements” or “non-prosecution agreements.” These deals involve modest fines, no jail time for the corporate bosses and a kind of temporary probation for the corporation.

Corporate attorneys play the DOJ like a harp knowing that the Department has a small budget for prosecuting corporate crime and that many DOJ attorneys are looking for lucrative jobs in these corporate law firms, after a few years of government service. Any one of many giant corporate law firms has more attorneys than all the lawyers working on corporate crime in the Department of Justice.

Professor Diamantis, W. Robert Thomas and their colleagues are prolific writers of law review articles. They argue for a range of effective penalties that will deter recidivism, which is rampant. They probe restructuring the corporate hierarchies of privileges and immunities from the law. They argue for updating the antiquated federal criminal code to match new technological/Internet/artificial intelligence (AI) violations.

Until, however, these scholars can make it into the mainstream media to reach enough citizens and get this “law and order” agenda adopted by candidates campaigning for elective office, the ideas they advance will circulate mostly among themselves indefinitely.

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Donald K. Ross (1943-2022) – Activist and Builder of Democratic Institutions Extraordinaire!

By Ralph Nader

It was a marathon day of thirty-minute interviews in 1970. Little did I think we were selecting recent law school graduates who would become, over a lifetime, civic leaders of historical significance in producing major changes for a more just and safe society.

Ten minutes into my interview with Donald K. Ross – fresh out of NYU Law School after two years of teaching in Nigeria with the Peace Corps – I knew he was someone very special. It wasn’t about any charisma or galvanizing rhetoric. It was his steady, focused, mature explanations that he gave for his qualifications and desire to engage in the work of bringing people together to create strong foundations for a better society.

Donald and two other recruits spent two months assessing the temper of campuses north and south, after which Donald and I traveled to colleges and universities meeting with active students to start their own full-time public interest research groups (PIRGs). After some disappointments, we got PIRGs going in Oregon and Minnesota. Our early groundwork helped Donald persuade students on numerous campuses to persevere and form a total of thirteen state-wide student public interest research groups. There are now over 20 such groups, run by student boards, with full-time staff advocates. PIRGs have canvassed millions of households in their states to move forward with legislation on environmental, consumer and other causes for all the people.

It is hard to exaggerate how difficult the process was to stay on course and negotiate with university administrations for funding to establish and keep these PIRGs going. It took Donald’s immense stamina, diplomacy and foresight to mediate student conflicts and advise students on the organizational details of their civic start-ups. These efforts overcame many a stumble and drawback before such unique, wonderful civic training and civil justice organizations got underway.

During his nearly three years with us, Donald wrote, with me, Action for a Change: A Student’s Manual for Public Interest Organizing, to guide students in starting or running PIRGs. In 1973, he wrote A Public Citizen’s Action Manual, which was full of projects that today still retain their importance for “public citizens” to use in their communities.

Over the next fifty years, Donald demonstrated the remarkable range and depth of his skills to strengthen our democratic society. In 1973 he became the head of the New York PIRG (NYPIRG) and over the next decade built this student funded and student run nonprofit into the largest state-based research and advocacy organization in the country with offices all over the state, including in its capital, Albany. NYPIRG pushed for government accountability and advanced political reforms. Donald and his NYPIRG colleagues also challenged the banks, insurance companies, utility companies, drug companies and toxic polluters.

Students received course credit for turning their ideals into practice through legislation, litigation or rigorous citizen monitoring, such as the Straphangers Campaign that Donald and his colleagues set up to improve the New York City subways.

This bold, friendly, humble civic giant, adored by scores of younger colleagues he mentored, had an uncanny sense of civic opportunity. After the Three Mile Island breakdown in 1979, Donald achieved the impossible task of organizing, in three weeks, a giant “No-Nukes” rally of 100,000 people in Washington, D.C., followed a few months later in September by a 250,000-person rally on the sands of the Battery Park City landfill in New York City.

He was hard to keep up with, so methodical and diverse were his projects. His work with Rockefeller Family Fund expanded the horizons of what philanthropy could do to advance justice. He co-founded and helped manage the Environmental Grantmakers Association which has grown to 200 member foundations around the world. He expanded the impact of the Tortuga Foundation which advances efforts to protect public lands and the environment, including the priceless Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Together with one of his former student organizers Arthur Malkin, he started a large public relations firm (M+R Strategic Services) and a public interest law and lobbying firm (Malkin & Ross). They represented the interests of nonprofit organizations, most of whom hitherto had little muscle with lawmakers at the state and federal levels. He led fights against Big Tobacco, Big Oil and the Defense Department’s toxic contamination of its military reservations and its contiguous environments and communities.

From 2009 to 2017 he undertook the improbable task of uniting Republican and Democratic state legislators in the passage of about 200 bills in nearly 40 states regarding juvenile justice reform. To do this he traveled incessantly with the support of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, with whom he conceived the campaign.

A father of three, Donald always had time to travel, including a memorable trip with his wife Helen throughout rural China and taking his well-known “treks” with close friends up the Himalayas.

I was fortunate to discover such an unsurpassed superstar citizen organizer and institution builder for sustainable democratic institutions. He had an extraordinary civic personality of resilient stamina, motivating others by self-disciplined example, and relentless focus on results.

Millions of people who benefited from his proliferating projects never knew this modest man’s name.

He was too modestly authentic, too productive, and too sharing of credit with others to warrant any media coverage. (His hometown newspaper, the New York Times, would do well to do more reporting on the civic community.)

Those Harvard professors who wrote the recent book, How Democracies Die, should now study the life and lasting achievements and institutions of Donald K. Ross to show how democracies can live. They would learn how much he has to teach them and millions of other Americans presently sinking into paralyzing discouragement and inaction in the face of Trumpian-driven fascism.

America lost a front-line champion of democracy and justice-in-action with the passing of Donald K. Ross on May 14, 2022. His legacy – the forces he put into motion – will continue to nourish what he and his collaborators fought for over half a century. For more information about Donald K. Ross visit: https://donaldkross.org/).

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The New Corporate Dictators – Super-Rich & Super-Immune

By Ralph Nader

Ever since the heads of East India Trading Company (1600) and Hudson Bay Company (1670), were incorporated by English Royal charters, there have been corporate dictators. Their range and actions, have varied widely however. Today’s new corporate dictators shatter past restraints.

John D. Rockefeller ruled the Standard Oil Company monopoly until the trust busters from Washington broke up its giant price-fixing and predatory practices into several companies.

Andrew Carnegie was the ruler of the giant Carnegie Steel Company (which became U.S. Steel Corporation). Carnegie violently broke up strikes, such as the 1892 Homestead strike, before he left the company to be a major philanthropist building libraries and universities.

In the post-World War II years, the CEOs of General Motors and Ford had immense power but still had to contend with a strong United Auto Workers union and later with jolting consumer advocacy leading to federal safety and emissions regulation.

Today’s corporate dictators are like no others, beyond with unparalleled wealth towering over that held by Rockefeller and Carnegie (adjusted for inflation).

Consider the sheer unchallenged power of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook (Meta), Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the wannabe CEO of a going-private Twitter, Elon Musk, (unless the sinking Tesla stock ends the debt-deep acquisition price), and Sergey Brin and Larry Page still in control of Google. Despite recent stirrings, there are no companywide unions at these companies and the prospect for such is still in the distant future.

These CEOs snap their fingers and their patsy Boards of Directors sign off on huge optimally priced stock options and other goodies. These CEOs don’t have to worry about their shareholders because like Zuckerberg, with a large portion of the shares, they have rigged their even larger control of voting shares giving them an unassailable shareholder majority.

They are hauled before Congressional Committees, appearing humble and afterwards they must be breaking open the champagne. Because after the public posturing by the lawmakers, no effective regulation is ever enacted. Antitrust action year after year doesn’t materialize, other than some weak consent decrees against Facebook which for a decade it violated while paying laughable civil fines.

No corporate monopolist comes close these days to being prosecuted for jail time. Under both the Democratic and Republican Parties, the Department of Justice cuts sweetheart ‘deferred prosecution agreements’ (See: Corporate Crime Reporter: https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/) with the corporate entity and lets off the bosses. Boeing, after its two criminal 737 MAX crashes, is the latest example (See: Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing by Peter Robison, November 30, 2021).

The dictatorship over consumers is most unprecedented. Whereas the old dictatorial bosses – pre-unions – had control over worker’s lives at the workplace, today’s corporate dictators can ply their power 24/7. They can get into the minds of people to addict them and have their personal lives invaded and their personal information offered for sale all over the globe. The old bosses used child labor until the early 20th century, but then kids were largely off limits.

Today’s dollar dictators have fused children’s hands with their iPhones and incarcerated them in their vast gluttonous, nasty, violent Internet world to which they become addicted. For six to ten hours a day, their screen time has become their lifetime – families begone!

Not only do these bosses’ avaricious clutches have no “quit time,” the little ones are now being lured into the Metaverse Gulag equipped with three-dimensional goggles to distance themselves further from daily reality.

Although circumvented, millions of parents are at their wit’s end, trying to recover their children from their screens and their video games at all hours and their digital fantasy worlds. Although there have been dozens of exposé books, documentaries and newly formed citizen groups focusing on these corporate child molesters, the hijacking of little America by these Internet Barons continues unabated.

Suing these commercial dictators for whom enough is never enough has gone nowhere. Judges don’t recognize offered causes of action. Moreover, under a special exception (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) from federal communications law, media like Twitter and Facebook are largely immune from suits no matter how violent, defamatory and false the anonymous hate messages traversing their corporate portals.

The contrast between the old and new corporate dictators is that the latter use, for free, your personal data for a fantastically profitable sale. The profit margins flowing from turning free “products” into big time cash are so high as to stun old-time economists who are used to margins under 10%, not over 50%.

Perhaps a bottom line in the differences between the old and new corporate dictators is twofold. Year after year, there is no number two really challenging their tight controls, no Avis to take on Hertz, as the old phrase went.

Second, the workers in these old industries felt and knew the oppressors or dictators ruling them. They were deep in this corporate reality. They could organize themselves because they knew their co-workers and this proximity gave birth to the union movements that led to fair labor standards and other regulations protecting workers (still much to be done here).

How do the users organize to overcome transaction costs (as with Facebook, Google and Twitter) when they never see each other? It’s a one-way gold mine ether out there. When several years ago, Facebook users formed a group for enhanced bargaining, Facebook sued for trademark infringement and blocked that nascent effort.

As long as Silicon Valley behemoths continue to rule Washington D.C. and State Capitals, get ready for more refinements of commercial tyranny.

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“Public Justice” – Standing Forty Years Against Brutish Corporate Power

By Ralph Nader
May 6, 2022

It is not often that one speech urging the creation of a national public interest law firm, driven by seasoned trial lawyers, would move from words to deeds, from oratory to action.

That is just what happened following my address in June 1980 to the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association. I spoke of a gap in trial practice which needed to be filled. There was a pressing need to bring cases against the many corporate abuses, which included non-enforcement of regulatory laws. Without the prospect of a contingent fee after a successful outcome, trial lawyers were unlikely to take on these uncertain cases or structural reform cases on behalf of tenants, farm workers, or cruel prison conditions.

I noted the assault of corporations on “the biosphere, personal injury law from trauma to toxics.” The corporate lobby was blocking legislative proposals to strengthen consumer class action rights, digging deeper for unconscionable corporate welfare payments and funding corporatist politicians. To challenge these damaging corporate power plays, I suggested a full-time core of public interest attorneys supported by a sabbatical program for trial lawyers who wanted to take a year off from their regular practice and come to Washington, D.C. to advance justice and refresh themselves.

It turned out that there were some leading trial lawyers – Scottie Baldwin, J.D. Lee, Bill Colson and Dean Robb – who were dissatisfied with the slow pace of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), then controlled by a small clique of smug members. They took this proposal to the ATLA convention and convened a meeting of like-minded attorneys. With the determined assistance of Joan B. Claybrook, who was with Public Citizen, the nonprofit Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) was born.

In the ensuing forty years, TLPJ renamed Public Justice (PJ) in 2007 has shown that there are opportunities for widespread justice successes so long as the peoples’ advocates are on the field of action.

Public Justice has taken on a wide range of cases from going up against mountain-top removal and the coal industry’s poisoning of fresh water in West Virginia, to industrial agricultures’ toxic contaminations, to making sure Title IX is enforced to open wide the doors for women participating in intercollegiate athletics.

Today, led by Paul Bland, Public Justice is celebrating its fortieth anniversary. The firm has a $7 million annual budget (which is about three and a half weeks’ pay for the miserly Tim Cook, CEO of Apple), 23 staff on its legal team and a total staff size of 46.

Look at Public Justice’s docket of lawsuits (See: https://www.publicjustice.net/what-we-do/access-to-justice/). They have challenged court secrecy, fought compulsory arbitration and federal pre-emption of good state laws and the weakening of class actions. Students subjected to harassment and discrimination have found a champion in Public Justice, as have consumers cheated in so many ways by devious commercial thieves.

Special is Public Justice’s stand against what it calls the “Debtor’s Prison Project.” Here governments try to cash in by imposing fees on charged defendants trapping them in cycles of poverty, with PJ arguing that “no one should lose their freedom because they lack the means to pay a fine.”

A large vacuum is filled by Public Justice in its Worker Justice Project. Giant agri-business, Public Justice asserts with abundant evidence, “has always capitalized on the exploitation of workers, since its origins in plantation agriculture that relied on the forced labor of enslaved Africans. Today, meatpacking workers are subject to some of the most brutal working conditions in the labor market.”

When Covid-19 viruses came to America, Public Justice went to the defense of food-system workers who were not given protection and care and therefore their industry facilities “quickly became epicenters of outbreaks.”

Paul Bland and his colleagues teamed up with other public interest groups on some cases, including Toward Justice and the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom.

Within today’s right-wing, corporatist judicial system, Public Justice still wins cases, deters wrongdoing because companies know it is on watch, and even raises the visibility of issues when they lose.

Like any forty-year-old institution, it must remain alert to becoming too settled, too risk-averse and instead continue to be a pioneering organization and break new ground with bold causes of action as if there is no tomorrow. Hear that younger attorneys? Your burden is to keep your unique law firm as fresh as a cool mountain breeze caressing a gushing mountain brook. For more information visit the Public Justice website: https://www.publicjustice.net/.

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Against the Trumpian GOP Onslaught – The Dems are Like Deer in the Headlights

By Ralph Nader

There is something about entrenched bureaucracies that transcend nations and cultures. When bureaucracies are confronted with unanticipated or new challenges, they freeze – like a deer facing headlights.

Sears, Roebuck and Company saw Walmart coming out of Arkansas for years and spreading all over the country, but the Sears bosses could not adjust to deal with this swarming business model. Sears, once the premium retail and mail order company in the nation, is now almost gone.

The lumbering General Motors (GM) had years to confront the electric car challenge of Tesla. Tiny Tesla took on giant GM, which built electric cars as prototypes long before Elon Musk was born. GM launched the much-troubled Chevrolet Volt and other converted model brands, but Musk isn’t losing any sleep over competition from GM or the other giant auto manufacturers. He just reported last quarter sales of over 300,000 electric vehicles, which means expected sales of well over one million dollars in 2022 or 50% over the previous year. Tesla’s profits are skyrocketing as well, as more Tesla manufacturing plants open. The GM bureaucracy, under CEO-engineer Mary Barra, just can’t put it together no matter its bold promises to convert to all electric vehicles.

Similarly, the national Democratic Party bureaucrats are inept or bewildered. With its record-setting campaign fundraising, the Party can’t seem to figure out how to go on the offensive against the overtly lying, cruel, corrupt, law-breaking, Wall Street over Main Street, Trumpian Republican Party. GOP fictions are fabricated and reinforced with wild falsifications – e.g., critical race theory being taught in elementary schools, Democratic politicians wanting to defund the police, Democrats being “socialists,” and the latest, that Democrats support teaching gay rights and gay lifestyles to early elementary school children. These accusations have left the Democratic apparatchiks tongue-tied. They can neither come up with easily pummeling rebuttals, exciting slogans, nor even authentic boasting about delivered and proposed social safety net and infrastructure programs that provide necessary assistance. How hard is it to boast about the $300 per month to over 60 million children cut off by GOP Congressional callousness? Or a $15 minimum wage? Or good-paying jobs repairing and expanding public services for all workers also opposed by the GOP?

Article after article in the mainstream media depicts the Democratic Party as depressed, discouraged and predicting their own defeat in the November election. They are searching for effective “messaging” by looking over each other’s shoulders.

Bear in mind that many of their Republican opponents are political crooks, law violators and voter suppressors. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who is in charge of the Senate November campaigns, wants to tax 100 million low-income Americans and sunset Social Security and Medicare. (See, Senator Scott’s An 11 Point Plan to Rescue America).

Democratic political operatives are frantic and down in the dumps. Yet they cling to their corporate-conflicted consultancies that are making it worse for themselves. Facing their self-fulfilling prophecies of November doom in the Senate and the House, they are still not welcoming the advice and know-how of the civic community, which fifty years ago worked with the Democratic Party to enact the fundamental consumer, environmental and worker safety legislation.

GOP strategists mock the Democrats regularly as not having a clue as to what ordinary Americans want. Unfortunately, whether it is arrogance, stupidity or historical ignorance, the Dems rarely return calls of civic leaders who know how to connect with Americans where they live, work and raise their families.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the mainstream media has excluded the activities and reports by these national and state organizations. They gave coverage to the work of these groups in the past.

Can, at the very least, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and its network of related federal and state committees, pollsters, fundraisers and consultants learn from Harry S. Truman in his underdog 1948 presidential campaign against the former prosecutor and New York Governor Thomas Dewey? Pollsters and pundits described Truman as a sure loser and a has-been. Southern segregationists or Dixiecrats walked out of the Democratic nominating convention and formed their States’ Rights Party.

These setbacks just got “Give-Em Hell Harry” underway. He called Congress back into session so he could show the public the differences between his policies and the retrograde Republicans. As related in Robert Kuttner’s new book, Going Big, Truman pushed “…legislation on housing, aid to education, a higher minimum wage, development and reclamation programs for the South and West, increased Social Security, and expanded public power.” With these popular hammers, Truman provoked the fierce opposition of what he repeatedly called, the “do-nothing 80th Congress,” controlled by Republicans, and set the stage for highlighting sharp differences with the GOP in his presidential campaign.

Come September 1948, Truman spent 33 days covering 21,928 miles on the railroad campaign trail, attacking the Republicans and their “big money boys.” In Dexter, Iowa, Kuttner reports, “he told a crowd of some ninety thousand people” (outdoors):

“I wonder how many times you have to be hit on the head before you find out who’s hitting you? …These Republican gluttons of privilege are cold men. They are cunning men…They want a return of the Wall Street dictatorship…I’m not asking you to vote for me. Vote for yourselves.”

This was the language of class warfare that still resonates as well in 2022 as it did in 1948 or in 1933. The Democrats can even quote mega-billionaire Warren Buffett who candidly said there is class warfare in America, “…but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The Democrats have memories of many inept races for the White House and the Congress that they should have won handily over the last 25 years. What they should remind themselves of now is how the FDR, Truman and LBJ Democrats won their elections against much more tame Republicans than the now vicious, snarling, anything goes GOP candidates that have turned themselves into Trumpian lackeys.

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Dishonoring Earth Day 2022 with An Oil, Gas, Coal & Nuclear Heyday

By Ralph Nader
April 22, 2022

Instead of championing solar, wind and conservation energy, the GOP (Greedy Old Party) is championing the skyrocketing profits and prices for the omnicidal fossil fuel and atomic power companies.

Surging gasoline prices at the pump are not met with excess profits taxes on profit-glutted Big Oil. Rather the GOP and the Democrats are suspending taxes on gasoline sales that are used to repair roads and bridges. An excess profits tax could be used to provide rebates to consumers who are being gouged at the pump.

The case for an excess profits tax is made in a new report, Big Oil’s Wartime Bonus: How Big Oil Turns Profits Into Wealth, April 5, 2022, by Bailout Watch, Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth. Profits (and stocks) of companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron zoomed so much that Big Oil, not wanting to moderate their wholesale prices, have spent $45 billion of your money to buy back their stocks this past year and increase the compensation of their bosses.

Unleashing their lobbying forces in Washington, Big Oil and Gas are demanding, the report relates, “faster approval for natural gas pipelines … and increased drilling on public lands and waters.” Biden is opening up more oil and gas leases on public lands even though he reported some 9000 leases already granted are still not being utilized by the oil and gas companies.

The Biden administration is spending $6 billion to shore up aging nuclear plants that safety advocates say should be mothballed.

Washington is silent on using taxes on fossil-fuel price profiteering for more wind, solar and the little mentioned energy conservation retrofits of buildings throughout the U.S. The energy savings and renewable approach would be faster, cleaner, produce more jobs and benefit more directly to Main and Elm Streets USA.

The becalmed Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission should swing into bold action under their anti-monopoly and consumer protection authorities.

It shouldn’t have taken Consumer Watchdog in California to sound the alarm on the price manipulation by the five big oil refiners that control 96 percent of the gasoline made in California, led by Chevron. Jamie Court, the dynamic president of Consumer Watchdog, declared: “with California taxes and environmental fees adding about 60 cents per gallon, Californians have long wondered where the extra $1.50 per gallon more they are paying than other US drivers (from 5 to 7 dollars per gallon) goes, and with this legislation (SB1322) we will finally know. California has been an ATM for oil refiners for too long. SB1322 requires California oil refiners to document monthly how much they pay for the average barrel of crude oil they process into gasoline and how much they charge for the barrel of finished gasoline. At 42 gallons per barrel, we will then know how much they are making per gallon of gasoline sold in California, and be able to take back the excessive profits.” That is, assuming the completely Democratic Party dominated California state legislature enacts this legislation.

If Democrats do not stand tall in going after gasoline price inflation and other price gouging, the GOP will succeed in putting the blame on the Dems in the November elections. Washington is decades late in cutting our addiction to fossil fuels that are causing the climate crises.

On the first Earth Day in April 1970, over 1500 demonstrations against air, water and pesticide pollution were held on college campuses around the country. With the onset of the omnicidal fossil-fuel-driven climate catastrophes, leading to even more virulent wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and floods, the college campuses are now too silent, the streets are too empty, and the Congress too somnolent.

Congress is on another vacation this week so citizens should be buttonholing their representatives back home and pressing them to take action to counter the fossil fuel industry’s greed and to move toward a clean energy future.

Except for the far too small number of authentic advocates pressing decision-makers in government and industry to “follow the science”, the country’s officials appear too resigned, too attentive to short-term campaign money and political myopia to be stewards of the people, the natural environment and the planet.

If these power brokers need any more evidence of the ominous threat to humanity and its tiny planet, they should read the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said humanity has a “brief and rapidly closing window” to head off a hotter, deadly future.” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe” as the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and lack of political willpower undermine the necessity to cut greenhouse gas pollution by about half before 2030 and get rid of the carbon footprint by 2050.

It is not as if an abused Nature is not warning homo sapiens daily with unprecedented intensifications of its deadly outbursts and disruptions all around the world.

Once again, given the way our government is structured, it is the Congress – with just 535 members – which can become the rapid engine of energy transformation to the readily known renewable solutions. Solar panels are now seen on rooftops, and windmills on hillsides. Energy efficient technologies are affordable and abundant. Unfortunately, the GOP blocked the infrastructure proposals for clean energy proposed by Biden and the Democrats. Will the voters remember in November?

You know the Congressional switchboard number: 202-224-3121. Summon your representatives to your own town hall meetings and directly confront their desire for re-election in the fall. Tell them, for the sake of the world, their country and their state, it is time to shake off whatever invisible chains are around them and do what they and most of America knows has to be done. A clean energy future is better for the climate, the economy, the health and consumer pocketbooks of ALL THE PEOPLE, regardless of their self-described political labels.

When it comes to the ravaging climate disruptions, all people bleed the same color. Summon your Senators and Representatives directly to your community. (See my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, Pages 144-145).

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Consumer Protection Progress and Regress – From the Sixties to Now

By Ralph Nader
April 15, 2022

I’m often asked whether consumers are better or worse off since the modern consumer movement took hold in the nineteen sixties.

Let’s look at the record. Motor vehicles are much safer, less polluting, and more fuel efficient now, but not nearly what they should be. Today, consumers have warranty rights, recall rights, equal credit opportunity rights they did not have back then. Labeling has also improved. There is no more lead in gasoline and paint, though lead water pipes still contaminate some drinking water systems.

From being King tobacco over 50 years ago, cigarette companies are more regulated and daily tobacco smoking is down from 45% of adults to less than 15% of adults. But now there is vaping. Deadly asbestos is out of most products.

Solar energy and wind power are growing, even though energy company propaganda smeared them as Buck Rogers science fiction over 50 years ago.

Nuclear power plants are closing and no new ones are under construction, except for the massive Georgia boondoggle projects costing taxpayers and ratepayers billions of dollars in cost overruns. Heating, lighting, and air-conditioning technology is more efficient, but nowhere near what it could be.

Clothing is cheaper due to production being taken to horrific polluting sweatshops abroad, leaving empty factories here (See, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas, September 3, 2019).

Now look at the dark side. Housing is less affordable and homelessness is greater. Hunger is still a shameful plague in a land of plenty, with some 15 million children going to bed hungry. Nutritional, organic, and ethnic foods are more widely available. We have pandemics instead of epidemics. Highway congestion and the paucity of mass transit are probably comparatively worse, despite some new investments in public transit since the sixties.

The profit-driven opioid pandemic taking over 100,000 American lives a year didn’t exist in the 1960s. Drug prices are sky high, even with large government subsidies and free research and development from the National Institutes of Health.

Corporate crime escaping accountability is more diverse, brazen, and massive. Big time corporate crime pays. Over $350 BILLION is lost in computer billing fraud every year just in the health care industry. There are very few prosecutions. Since computer use has grown, it has been much easier for corporations to cheat, fine, penalize, and overcharge consumers and commit automated billing fraud. With the repeal of state usury laws in the nineteen seventies, payday rackets and rent-to-own swindles have fewer restraints.

Fine print contracts keep reaching new levels of coercion unheard of in the nineteen sixties. This is due to the endless opportunities created by the incarcerating credit card economy, which has taken away consumers’ control over their own money. Over 80% of consumers do not use cash or checks as they did in the sixties.

It is hard to exaggerate the massive controls over consumers which come from losing their freedom of contract and being coerced by companies with threats to worsen consumer credit scores and credit ratings, especially if they dare to persistently complain about a lemon car or a callous landlord. Fine print contract companies – just about every major corporation selling to you –are now taking away your right to go to court and have a trial by jury if you are wrongfully injured and want to hold wrongdoers accountable for damages.

Working only three days a week when they are not in extended recesses, Congress holds fewer investigative public hearings on issues affecting consumers such as monopolies or oligopolies that plague one industry after another. There are far fewer full-time consumer reporters at newspapers and radio/TV stations. Wells Fargo Bank creates fictitious credit card accounts, auto insurance, and other sales for millions of their non-requesting customers for years and then when caught escapes any jail time for the top bosses. Where was the preventative oversight?

What would have been incredible in the nineteen sixties is the relentless drive by companies such as Amazon, rental car giants, and others to get rid of purchasing by cash or check. Many companies want everybody to be coerced into the credit/debit penitentiary so they can charge your account for their dictatorial fees and other abuses (see my column, Ten Reasons Why I Don’t Have a Credit Card, December 5, 2014).

Companies can charge you an outrageous fee or so-called penalty. They control your money through access to your credit card and deduct their bilk. What if instead they had to send you a bill to pay by check? They would probably decide to revise their business model, because you would be more outraged if you had to consciously pay them, instead of being passively debited.

Finally, the marketing to children is out of control. Companies are circumventing parental authority selling directly to kids, harmful junk food, junk drink, and violent programs and games. These avaricious corporations are electronic child molesters. Direct marketing to kids and pushing to hook them with credit cards at an early age are pulling them into the addiction industries and creating intense family turmoil – especially with children’s omnipresent iPhone as the delivery vehicle.

Now comes Facebook’s murky “metaverse” that sucks in these youngsters far beyond the cruel seductions of today’s internet, further distancing this generation from the realities of life and communion with their families and the natural world.

We need hundreds of new consumer protection organizations from the local to the national and international levels making tough demands on lawmakers and pushing for wider access to justice for aggrieved people.

Big corporations have meticulous strategic plans for humans, including robotic replacement of workers and human to human contact. It is time for a new consumer revolution and new consumer rules for a just, safe, and consumer-sovereign economy.

Alexa can’t help you with this portentous mission.

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Corporate Media Ignores Senate Hearing on Corporate Greed and Inflation

By Ralph Nader
April 8, 2022

It is exceedingly rare for a major congressional committee to hold hearings on “corporate greed” leading to corporate profiteering and surging prices on consumer goods. On April 5, 2022, Senate Budget Chairman, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) chartered uncensored territory on corporate avarice with a lead witness, former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Although the hearing covered bread and butter issues, the mainstream corporate media ignored it. Massive coverage of the war in Ukraine does not offend advertisers, while the corporate war on consumers directly involves corporate advertisers.

Corporate greed takes hundreds of thousands of American lives every year (think the opioid disaster, the tobacco cancer business, the toxins in the air and water), not to mention injuries and illnesses stemming from corporations that put extra profit over concerns about public health and safety.

However, at the Senate hearing, Sanders chose to focus on the economic exploitation of consumers. Here is his introductory remark:

Across every major industry, prices continue to rise – this includes a 38 percent increase in the price of gasoline, a 44 percent increase in the price of heating oil, a 41 percent increase in the price of a used car, a 24 percent in the price of rental cars, and a 17 percent increase in the price of furniture. Further, Tyson Foods recently increased beef prices by 32 percent, the price of chicken by 20 percent and the price of pork by 13 percent. As prices increase, corporate profits hit a record high of nearly $3 trillion in 2021, up 25 percent in a single year.

He might have added that the companies profiting from these price increases paid a record low amount in federal income taxes. Moreover, the net worth of their richest shareholders soared in the midst of the pandemic.

Sanders denounced $900 billion in stock buybacks last year alone (a sign of excessive pricing power). In 2020, he added, the CEOs of major U.S. companies on average “made nearly 350 times more than the median worker.”

Senator Sanders could have noted that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is making $50,000 an hour or about $850 a minute this year! (No, those are not typos).

Big corporations always have misleading, but plausible excuses. They are currently blaming the war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the global supply chain pile-up in our ports for high prices. Well, who created the supply chain requiring U.S. consumers to buy all kinds of products from countries thousands of miles away that could have been produced here in the USA? It was Big Business CEOs who pushed corporate-managed “free trade” agreements through from Washington to Beijing. Their avaricious mantra was that their “free trade” pacts would lower prices for consumers. Really? Aside from clothing, look at the sky-high prices for your imported iPhones, your computers, cars, and drugs. The corporate boosters of the global trade pacts pocketed the excess profits from the backs of serf labor abroad.

Professor Robert Reich rebutted the corporate excuses for their higher prices by pointing out the detrimental impact on consumers of concentrated corporate power in such industries as gas and meat. With profits at a 70-year high and the companies flush with cash, why are they raising prices? His answer: “Because they can, and they can because they don’t face meaningful competition.”

Just the reverse is true. These industries dominated by a few corporations “have the power to raise prices because it makes it easy for them to informally coordinate price increases … without risking the possibility of losing customers, who have no other choice,” he testified.

“If markets were competitive,” he continued, “companies would keep their prices down to prevent competitors from grabbing away customers.” The reason they’re raising prices rather than absorbing increased costs is that they have pricing power in their locales,” as does Proctor & Gamble for diapers and toilet paper. In addition to their soaring profits, Reich showed how corporations even make money off of inflation beyond their rising costs. Tyson Foods CFO admitted this power (See the full, well-documented testimony by Professor Reich, which includes reforms – https://www.budget.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Robert%20Reich%20-%20Testimony%20-%20U.S.%20Senate%20Budget%20Committee.pdf).

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the malicious, duplicitous ranking Republican member of the Budget Committee, had as his witness, professor Michael Faulkender who worked for Trump’s Treasury Department. Faulkender blamed the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy (funded by banks and headed by a Trump nominee) and excessive demand fueled by Washington’s stimulus programs for price increases. This is the usual GOP routine of blaming the government for everything, even a government under the thumb of the corporate lobby. He neglected to mention that given soaring profits, companies in a competitive industry would absorb rising costs to keep their customers. Instead, these companies are passing on these costs, plus adding profit, fueling ever-higher inflation.

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the government’s abdication of antitrust enforcement – shaped by corporatist lobbying – allowed countless merger after merger in industry after industry to occur. But Faulkender did not dwell on this dimension of the corporate state or the relentless corporate urge to merge so they can buy their customers instead of earn them.

The Biden White House has proposed stronger antitrust and consumer protection measures. They want to tax billionaires and unproductive stock buybacks – the latter being a long-time desire of President Biden. But there is no energy by his Party in Congress compared to the energy by the GOP to stop these measures. Besides, both parties are dialing for the same corporate campaign cash – a daily begging that dilutes the reformists’ ardor.

The media blackout on Sanders’s hearing is partly the Senator’s fault. He knows how to hold a highly energetic public hearing. You have witnesses who have worked in the trenches against corporate profiteering, victims of these profiteers, and subpoenaing corporate executives like Tim Cook of Apple if they don’t testify voluntarily. There also needs to be proponents of strong corporate crime legislation.

If Democrats can’t organize a determined hearing, that generates massive media coverage, how do they expect to make these popular issues front and center in the coming November elections? How do they expect to rebut the twistificating Republicans from succeeding in blaming the Democrats for these corporate-bred inflationary pressures on voters? The Democrats haven’t even formulated the slogans for such an offensive.

The Democratic leadership has to decide what they want most – votes or more corporate campaign money to further enrich their consultants who themselves are often conflicted due to their own business clients.

Unfortunately for the American people, the knowledgeable civic community is not catching the ears of the Democratic Party candidates. Regular reports show incumbent Democrats feeling despair and defeatism over the prospect of the lying, corrupt, corporatist, and clever GOP taking control of Congress next year.

Wake up to the winning ways of addressing ALL THE PEOPLE with economic and moral policies that connect with where people live, work and raise their families. Learn from FDR!

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Going for Big Watch on Big Budgets

By Ralph Nader
March 31, 2022

What if $10 billion were raised over ten years for civic action to transform Congress and make it do what it should be doing for the people (See: Think Big to Overcome Losing Big to Corporatism 1/7/22)? In a more recent column, Facilitating Civic and Political Energies for the Common Good 2/2/22, I started a series of columns to outline how $1 billion per year could be spent lobbying Congress for a people’s agenda.

First $100 million per year would be used to get through Congress long-overdue legislation such as full Medicare for All, with emphasis on prevention of ailments and price gouging, a living wage, reducing corporate abuses, etc. The second $100 million would be devoted to creating facilities to make it easy for people to band together in their various roles (e.g., workers, consumers, patients, savers) so they could counter corporate bosses who band together their investors and many lobbying trade groups.

The third article dealt with the $100 million per year to make Congress change the disgracefully unfair, wasteful, and inefficient tax laws (See: Going for Tax Reform Big Time 3/11/2022).

Now I propose the fourth $100 million per year to be used to gain control of the enormous, amorphous federal budget. Shining sunlight on congressional budget shenanigans is the first step in making it reflect public priorities and needs instead of corporate greed.

Start with the first “twistification” (Jefferson’s word) of Article I, Section7, Clause 1, of the Constitution, which states, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; …” Congress has rendered this a formality.

The reality is that budgets originate from the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), after it receives the budgets prepared by federal departments and agencies.

Until the 1920s Congress directly received these various budgets, and the congressional committees used to go through a double check – a sequence of first authorizing expenditures, then appropriating the monies. For the most part, unlike earlier decades, the authorization process that started this double check is usually skipped. Today appropriations hearings are little more than perfunctory – with few exceptions.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees would go through the respective budgets line by line. No more. Now the White House sends Congress a multi-thousand-page annual budget, corrupted by corporate lobbyists. Then the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, after great delays and backroom deals, signal their agreements and ram the budget through the legislative process. During the delays, Democrats and Republicans pass continuing resolutions (CRs) to fund the government.

It has gotten so bad that since 1997, the Pentagon asks for a ton of money under the name of an “Overseas Contingency Operations Transfer Fund” – essentially a slush fund for wars in general. Year after year, starting at the time of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions (2001-2003), requests for $50 billion or more at a time would just go to Congress, unexamined, and be whooped through, producing a blank check for the Defense Department.

President Obama launched a war against Libya taking unappropriated money from these dark pots of Pentagon cash. President Trump defiantly also spent money illegally on the Wall and for other purposes.

At every juncture, one powerful group knows what’s going on. Commercial corporate lawyers and other influence peddlers operate inside the budget process and push for their demands of special budget favors and secretly insert loophole legislative language. The people back home are often clueless about this subterfuge and become cynical because they feel powerless about what is being done with their money.

More and more of these huge expenditures are not being paid for by tax revenues. They are being added to burgeoning deficits on our children and grandchildren. This form of “child abuse” lets billionaires pay only an average of 8 percent in federal taxes and giant profitable companies pay less or no federal income taxes at all. That is one reason the super-rich liked Trump.

With a $5.3 trillion federal budget, it is important to separate the so-called “discretionary” operating budget – to run the government – from the “non-discretionary” social insurance budget, for programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

It is the operating budgets which are sloshing around billions of dollars without public review, without strict standards and proper oversight by Congress – except for the oft-ignored reports of the congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO). Increasingly, the public budget is under the allocative powers of federal bureaucrats who are besieged by corporate lobbyists.

In 1990 Congress made an attempt to require annual auditable budgets from each government department. Only the biggest operating budget by far – that of the Pentagon – has violated this requirement every year, despite promises by U.S. Secretaries of Defense to comply. It has not sent an auditable budget because no one knows where all the DOD money goes. Budget watchdogs, however, do know that much of the DOD budget is spread all over the world with warehouses of uninventoried supplies, cargo planes of $100 bills to grease or bribe influentials, and to pay for staggering overcharges by the insatiable military munitions manufacturers and other contractors.

In the midst of all these Niagaras of budgeted money, there are very few citizen groups investigating, monitoring and pressing Congress to represent the public interest. The closest are the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which is mostly an excellent think tank critically analyzing budget allocations for domestic social service programs and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonprofit organization that investigates and exposes government waste.

One Hundred Million dollars a year could unleash legions of lawyers, accountants and other knowledgeable people, who worked inside government, to challenge the status quo and the excesses of the executive branch agencies. The low-hanging fruit is truly everywhere and available for plucking. The structural budget process failures would require broad overhaul legislation to wake up Congress and hold its members electorally accountable.

People back home aren’t receiving the outrageous facts. Remember how shaken the Pentagon was when it was caught paying $435 for a simple claw hammer that its corporate vendor brazenly described as a “uni-directional impact generator.” Public outrage fueled by exposes reaching the citizenry could be organized to turn around members of Congress.

Unfortunately, spurts of indignation can only be converted into a grassroots movement by (polls show) left/right alliances of Americans joining together against combinations of unfettered waste, greed and power, which suck away huge revenues that could be used to rebuild America. With organizers in each of the 435 Congressional Districts assembling small (say 500 people in each District) who are informed and determined real change will come about.

From all angles, the obscured federal budget is broken, pillaged and suffused with grotesque, often criminal payments. Taking on such indefensible violations of the public trust by skilled civic action would fill the near vacuum existing today. There is not one fulltime individual citizen pressing for an auditable Pentagon budget, as required by law. Against such widespread inaction, there is nowhere to go but up!

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No Corporate Law and Power Questions for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

By Ralph Nader
March 25, 2022

In over twenty hours of grueling confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Jackson’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican Senators (Cruz, Cotton, Hawley, Blackburn, and Graham) found much time to disgrace themselves, using the Judge as a prop for their despicable political ambitions. Meanwhile the Democratic (and Republican) Senators found no time to tap into Judge Jackson’s knowledge and analysis of the grave issues regarding the nexus of the power of giant corporations and the Constitution.

Senators, who should have known better, declined to raise the important questions about corporate personhood, or the provision of equal rights for corporations with human beings in a Constitution that never mentions “corporations” or “companies.” The Constitution is all about “We the People.”

Ignoring the immense power of global corporations over the rule of law, the immunities and privileges these companies use to escape the law and harm people with impunity, and the power of corporations under the 2011 Citizens United case to spend unlimited amounts of money to independently support or oppose candidates for public office were taboo subjects.

These are critical questions that leading citizen groups like Public Citizen and Common Cause would have wanted raised. The hearings, before a large television and radio audience, could have provided a rare educational moment for the public!

In numerous nomination hearings for Associate Justices of the High Court, we have submitted questions to presumably receptive Democratic Senators about corporations and the law. They were never asked. Our requests that Senators submit questions on corporate power to the nominee for written responses were also regularly denied.

Since my testimony with Dr. Sidney Wolfe during Justice Stephen Breyer’s confirmation hearings in 1994, outside civic witnesses have largely been prohibited from testifying at these tightly choreographed spectacles. Congress has added this exclusion to their overall closure movement against the civic community.

We are left with submitting testimony for the record, which rarely sees the light of the Judiciary Committee’s day. On the last day of the hearings with the nominees, the two Parties each select their own panel of rubber-stamp witnesses (often law professors). Both the media and senatorial attendance declines.

The Committee’s arrogance is such that distinguished people asking to testify do not even get the courtesy of a written acknowledgement. They’re just treated as nonpersons, instead of valuable contributors to the nomination process.

During the nomination in 2006 of the most right-wing corporatist, unitary-presidency ideologue, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., I wrote that the Senators did not “pose questions relating to access-to-justice, as provided by tort law, nor to the generic constitutional questions relating to NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO) and their dubious authority to side-step the sovereignty of our three branches of government with their mandatory decisions” affecting workers, consumers, and the environment.

When the most powerful institutions in our country escape scrutiny at these times of peak interest in the rule of law (constitutional and statutory), the charge that Congress refuses to confront corporatism and the supremacy of these out-of-control corporate behemoths comes full circle.

Call them above the law, beyond the law, or the creators of the law, giant and powerful corporations are a major domestic threat to our democracy. They are corrupting elections, dominating the media, blocking union formation, obstructing judicial justice for wrongfully injured people, and destroying our consumer freedom of contract – while strategically planning the future of human beings, down to their genetic inheritance.

Asking Judge Jackson her thoughts about the legal rights of robots, the engagement in military activities by corporate contractors, and the corporate patenting of life forms would have increased public awareness about important legal issues. Even if she artfully avoided judgmental replies, just asking what she knows about the settled law in these and other areas would have educated lawmakers and the public.

To get a sense of the immensity of this overlooked corporate phenomenon, please visit our website nader.org for the list of my previous questions and see the excellent article by the great journalist Morton Mintz in the November 1, 2005 issue of The Nation titled “Serious Questions for Samuel A. Alito Jr.”(See, https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/serious-questions-samuel-alito-jr/).

Readers, remember Congress is misusing the powers that you have granted it under the Constitution, but you still hold the sovereign power and duty to safeguard and improve our democracy.

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