Ezra Klein and His Vast Inner Space

By Ralph Nader
February 12, 2022

I read the New York Times in print, flipping pages and reading through all the various sections. Over the past year, a nearly life-size face appears in many full-page ads. This same ad appears in any section of the Times including the coveted pages of the Sunday New York Times Magazine. The same full-page ad has been printed at least 100 times.

The ad intensely promotes the Ezra Klein Show! – a New York Times Podcast featuring their newest star.

Mr. Klein, formerly from the Washington Post and Vox, holds forth with interviews that range far and wide but not as far and wide as reality would seem to demand from such a well-read, inquiring young mind of 37 years. This repetitive full-page ad, once you get beyond his portrait, the top of his black t-shirt, and the American flag, tells you what to expect, to wit:

“How do we address climate change if the political system fails to act? What are the effects of markets infiltrating our lives? What is the future of the Republican Party? How can our food system be more just? What do psychedelics teach us about consciousness? What does sci-fi understand about our present? How can conversations and ideas help us to better understand?…… Ezra Klein invites you into a conversation about something that matters.”

Do large advertisers on his Podcasts like Facebook and Fidelity Investments invite you to patronize them? Podcasts are a key component of the New York Times business model that is designed to reach the younger aliterate generation and others who have a short attention span. Mr. Klein, also an occasional columnist for the paper, declares that only the Times management makes the decisions about ads, and that he has nothing to do with the corporations wrapped around his content. Alas Mr. Klein has no say, he would insist, over how the Times promotes him. I wonder. He could at least vary the ad, which hasn’t changed an iota. For example, the ad could feature some eyebrow raising or enlightening excerpts and exchanges between him and his guests.

How about varying the graphics to avoid the humdrum reaction by readers seeing the same presentation over and over again? (Attempts to reach the head of the advertising and graphics departments at the Times by phone and by email were not successful.)

Even a corporate critic told me that listening to Ezra’s show “is a great education.” Yet direct words like “corporate crime,” “corporate welfare,” “corporate greed,” and “corporate control” over our political economy, culture, children, genetics, war machine, tax inequities, health care chaos, housing and food supply are rarely used in promotions or podcast questioning, despite their authentic pulling power. The preferred word is “markets,” not the power-hungry CEO or a named corporation plundering the innocents. Ezra did, however, have an entire show with Noam Chomsky, a globally recognized public intellectual, war and corporate critic, and mega-author. For years the Times news and editorial pages have reduced Chomsky to a virtual non-person.

As a deliberative progressive, Mr. Klein probably has a nuanced view of his full-page promotions that expands well beyond delights of ego. A full-page in the Times is valuable journalistic real estate. These pages could be filled with news and features on subjects neglected by the New York Times, including issues involving New York City.

For example, the 50-year performance of the New York student Public Interest Research Group’s accomplishments remains largely ignored, other than its Straphangers Campaign monitoring the City’s subways. NYPIRG is part of the most productive nationwide civic (student) movement in modern U.S. history (See USPIRG.org).

It has also been puzzling to see the Times use valuable pages endlessly promoting the same book by their ace White House reporter, Peter Baker, or their columnist Paul Krugman. Month after month, with diminishing returns, these ads produce very modest Amazon rankings and other sales. Large space is taken up which might cause loyal readers to say, “Enough, already, we want more print content from all those talented underutilized reporters.”

Graphics, seen by the Times as necessary in a visual age to attract readers, have been allowed to go way overboard. Graphic designers now reign supreme over what were the most valuable pages in American journalism such as the front pages of the Sunday Review and the Sunday Business Section. Often full-page graphics exude no message; and are little more than eye candy.

Readers of the print edition these days tend to be serious and more elderly. They can be forgiven for feeling robbed of the content that once graced these front pages, such as the brilliant investigative financial reporting by Gretchen Morgenson, whose reporting gave many CEOs indigestion at their Sunday morning breakfast. That was before she left when the editors decided to make the section “more business friendly.”

Returning to Ezra Klein, here is my entreaty. You’re a big star. Superstar athletes, such as Tom Brady, LeBron James and others weigh in on management decisions. This level of intervention by you is hardly a major stretch. Enough of these full-page, diminishing return promotions. Promote what you’ve mined from your podcast, and free some space for reporters hungry for space to cover the uncovered.

Imagine trading some ad space for a story on what the tiny financial transaction sales tax, collected and instantly rebated in the billions of dollars each year by New York State, is all about. The Times Albany reporters would like getting that assignment at last.

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Facilitating Civic and Political Energies for the Common Good*

By Ralph Nader
February 2, 2022

Some readers responded to one of my earlier columns urging the national progressive civic groups, with millions of members back home, to overcome the dominance of giant corporatism with a Ten-Year Plan budgeted at $1 billion a year (See, Think Big to Overcome Losing Big to Corporatism, January 7, 2022). Readers wanted to know more about the Plan and where the money would come from to implement this grand initiative.

New billionaires are proliferating in numbers reflecting the record stock market surges. Some are enlightened and worried enough to gather with citizen group leaders to review the Plan, the strategy, timetable, and required budget. Those who count themselves in, and want to back the Plan, would pledge to contribute the total pledges of $10 billion for the ten-year effort. After the funding is secured, (possibly augmented with internet crowdfunding), the Plan commences in several coterminous stages.

The First Stage is to get through Congress, vetoproof if necessary, the long overdue necessities for half of the U.S. population, which is poor, with collateral benefits for the entire country.

A Brain Trust will expertly draft legislation addressing the elements of ending endemic poverty. These include a living wage, Medicare for All insurance (already well drafted in H.R.1976 and supported by over 118 co-sponsors), affordable housing, adequate nutrition that abolishes hunger in America, personal and environmental health care with emphasis on prevention, necessary public services for families and communities, and a system of private retirement savings to supplement Social Security.

These conditions for good livelihoods, which were mostly secured years ago by some Western countries, lead to larger market demand, have consistent left/right support in Europe and in the U.S., and they make for strong economies. (See, Reframing the Politics of Polarization by Hazel Henderson, August 4, 2021).

The driving pressure to implement the Plan would come from civic offices staffed by two full-time people in each of the 435 Congressional Districts and for US Senators in all fifty states plus territories. Groups would be established with an expanding corps of citizen volunteers committing 500 hours and $500 annually forming a grassroots juggernaut. These citizen groups would focus intensely on their members of Congress, using precise petition-backed citizen summonses to their Senators and Representatives to appear at Town Meetings, which these organizers arrange with detailed and broadly supported agendas.

The yearly cost to establish these offices and recruit significant numbers of volunteers as the ever-deepening force is about $100 million a year. This sum would include inter-district coordinators and other facilities to organize the self-funded, expanding volunteer corps.

Passage of vital and overdue bills is less difficult than assumed by a society that is presently AWOL from the playing field of legislation. Such catch-up legislation can already count on the overt support of about thirty percent of Congress, with the latent support of at least a quarter of Congress once the organized rumble from the People is heard. (That was the case with Nixon Republicans in the 1960s and early 70s.)

Once the political tea leaves become clear, lawmakers become responsive. This is what happened in corporate President Richard Nixon’s first term, sometimes leading to great majorities behind environmental, consumer, and labor bills. Nixon even sent to Congress a basic minimum-income plan, a better health insurance proposal than Clinton offered as President, and congressional voting rights legislation for the District of Columbia. Congress did not pass these three reforms coming from a Republican White House. Nonetheless, Nixon felt he had to propose these bills.

The Second Stage, parallel to the first, is to create facilities that invite and enable an accelerated banding together of willing people in their various roles. People can have rights and remedies under the law, but without organized groups they are mostly not used, defended, or improved. Whether you are customers of insurance, utility and banking companies, or tenants, or consumers of food, energy, transportation, and healthcare or using government services, or have been wrongfully injured, membership in these “communities,” as organized advocacy groups is essential. Such groups would work to fundamentally change existing dysfunctional systems, extending to protections of children, services for students, and corporate control of the vast commons (public lands, public airwaves, etc.) that we the people already own.

Daily seeking their own interests, corporations are organized to the teeth by comparison to millions of citizens. This is why corporations control the major sectors of our government, our economy, and other societal institutions day by day. The large drug companies have 500 full-time lobbyists regularly working on Congress with large industry backup forces. The people are vastly outmatched. So what do we expect without a strong citizen team on the field?

Corporate power stems not from votes (corporations don’t vote, yet) nor so much from the campaign money. It comes as a byproduct of the almost wholly unorganized populace not utilizing its powerful exclusive sovereignty (“We the People”) under our Constitution. In our country’s history, it is remarkable what a small percentage of people (often under one percent) when organized and representing broad public concerns, have achieved against all odds. (See my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, 2016).

Much of the conceptual work on these legislated facilities has been developed and used to produce pilot projects vis-à-vis electric utility giants years ago by citizen organizations. (See, Banding Together: How Check Offs Will Revolutionize the Consumer Movement by Andrew Sharpless and Sarah Gallup, 1981).

To get these facilities set up and into action all around the country, with seed money for ten years, would annually cost about another $100 million. They would put the people and their expert champions at the table in more ways than one, with near immediate results. Right now, for example, according to consumer advocate, actuary, and former Federal Insurance Commissioner, Robert Hunter, about $30 billion is not being returned as state laws require, to motor vehicle owners by auto insurers that received a windfall when the pandemic reduced auto traffic and claims. Without state-by-state insurance consumer organizations, there will be few of these refunds.

Forthcoming columns will describe the uses for the remainder of the $800 million in the first of ten years.

*Richard Parker, Here, the People Rule: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

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Morton Mintz Turns 100 – Investigative Nemesis of Corporate Criminals

By Ralph Nader
January 25, 2022

“Hi Mort,” began my calls to Morton Mintz who would invariably answer his phone promptly at the Washington Post. “I’ve got a story,” to which Mintz would respond warily: “Tell me about it.” And so it went for nearly twenty years with me and lots of other citizen advocates, whistleblowers, and congressional committee staff. More than any other reporter, Mintz broke open the walls surrounding the media’s non-coverage of serious consumer, environmental, and worker harms and rights.

The big advertisers and corporate lawyers, such as Lloyd Cutler, kept complaining to the Post publisher, Kay Graham, about his exposés and relentless stories that nourished congressional investigations, lawsuits, and prosecutions.

Mintz was not deterred, even from championing the Post’s union troubles with management. In 1978 the Post assigned him to cover the Supreme Court making him an ‘official source journalist’ which he intensely disliked. After two years he went back to reporting, but by then Reagan was President, the Democrats’ hold on Congress was weaker, and Washington was closing down on the citizenry in favor of the corporate supremacists.

Soon after Mintz joined the Post in 1962, from his job at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, he broke the story about Thalidomide – a drug used as a sedative and to treat morning sickness that was given to pregnant mothers causing thousands of children, mostly in Europe, to be born without arms or legs or sometimes no limbs at all. Fortunately, an alert scientist Frances Oldham Kelsey at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spared America by refusing to approve Thalidomide. Mintz also wrote numerous stories about inadequate FDA tests for the birth control pill. His various probes into the drug industry led to his first book published in 1965, The Therapeutic Nightmare.

I met Mintz during the GM-detective scandal in 1965. GM’s detectives were hired to “get dirt” on this young lawyer challenging the auto industry’s unsafe motor vehicles that put style and horsepower over saving lives with long-known safety devices. Together with Jim Ridgeway, then at the New Republic, Mintz broke the story of a GM gumshoe following me into a Senate office building. The private detective mistook Bryce Nelson, a Washington Post reporter, for me. The following excerpt from the An Unreasonable Man documentary captures this bit of history:

Bryce Nelson: I was walking to the old Senate office building, underground corridors that they used and one of the capitol policemen said to me, “You’d better get out of here; there are a couple of detectives following you.” And I said, “What you do mean?” “There are two guys following you.” He said, “Didn’t you write a book on auto safety?” I said, “No.”

Morton Mintz: It was February of ’66, a Saturday afternoon, when Ralph Nader told me he’d been followed the previous day. Well, you can’t write a story saying somebody says he’s being followed when there’s absolutely no evidence of it.

Bryce Nelson: I felt that I better tell somebody in case I wound up face down in the Potomac or Anacostia Rivers. I mean, something strange was going on, so I told my editor, the national editor of the Washington Post, Larry Stern.

Morton Mintz: And then Larry Stern, my boss, told me that another post reporter who has white skin and black hair had told him something very similar.

Bryce Nelson: Because we were so tall, thin, dark… dark hair.

Morton Mintz: I was, you know, astonished to have this confirmation.

A special attribute of Mintz is that he stayed with the story; he wasn’t interested in a major one-time feature. That steadfastness helped consumer advocates and congressional staffers, such as Michael Pertschuk, immensely in their step-by-step drive to regulate corporate outlaws.

What made him stay on the story was not just his professionalism and his regard for the readers, but his passion for justice for the underdogs. He epitomized the aphorism “information is the currency of democracy.”

Mintz’s corporate critics were many. They knew of his commitment and told his editors that his emotions made him biased. Whether exposing the tobacco companies, the asbestos industry, or the medical device and pharmaceutical business, the corporatists tried to trip him up. He was just too factual, too full of evidence, and too aware of not going beyond the boundary of accuracy to fall prey to the corporate drive to silence or discredit him.

No matter how tense or explosive the subject, Morton had the softest tone of voice. He had a logical, linear, disarming way of interrogating industry people and others who did not believe in the public’s need to know.

If he had a complaint, it was that he couldn’t get enough space in the paper for his fact-packed reporting. To augment his reporting, he joined with lawyer Jerry S. Cohen in writing America, Inc. and Power, Inc., to overwhelmingly and devastatingly detail the abusive power of big business over America.

He was keen on mentoring younger reporters about journalistic standards and independence. No one felt the brunt of commercial advertisers more than this inexhaustible reporter of what was going on in the dark recesses of corporate systems. In 1985, he wrote the deadly story of the criminal Robbins corporation in his book titled, At Any Cost: Corporate Greed, Women, and the Dalkon Shield.

The Post publishers and editors liked the journalistic prizes that Morton Mintz received, but they did not give him the cachet accorded to flashier journalists on the staff. Sometimes, the editors were downright irritated at how his exposés upset the business side of this large corporation registered on the New York Stock Exchange.

At a social gathering at Kay Graham’s home, to which I was invited, she amiably asked “How’s your Morton Mintz?” As if anyone could induce him to ever write a story that didn’t hold up, or that didn’t merit the high standards of newsworthiness the reading public deserved.

About the time he was leaving the Post in 1988, Mintz wanted to write a book about AARP and its entanglements with the health insurance and other industries. Touted as an organization of elderly consumers, AARP was also a seller of services. It contracted out its huge membership for “Medigap” coverage and auto insurance to giants such as United Health Insurance and auto insurers, from which it took a large share for its budget. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find a publisher. It is noteworthy that many years later no one picked up where he left off to write such a book.

In a 1996 Washington Monthly article, Mintz, who was troubled by reporters namby-pamby questions to political candidates, prepared a list of 27 serious questions whose answers would have probed the candidates’ positions or lack thereof on such topics as corporate influence, campaign contributions, and ethics, labor, military spending, and consumer policies. Needless to say, his ditto-headed colleagues largely ignored this veteran reporter’s attempt to give them more professional significance and make news.

Full of quiet energy (except on the tennis court) Mintz even managed to co-author books with his daughter, Margaret Quotations from President Ron, 1987, and with his beloved late wife, Anita President Ron’s Appointment Book, 1988.

I had lunch with Morton when he turned 95. I recall his utter astonishment at being informed that most email-driven Washington Post reporters do not return telephone calls to learn about scoops, leads, reactions, or corrections the way he used to.

Happy 100th birthday (January 26th), Morton. May your example reach the next generation and may they be energized by your impeccable career as a reporter.

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Lost Opportunities in Joe Biden News Conference

By Ralph Nader
January 21, 2022

President Joe Biden broke the record for the longest presidential press conference ever – going nearly two hours fielding question after question. He stood that long to prove his stamina and dispel bigoted charges of ageism.

How did he do by his own standards? First, his opening remarks naturally touted the bright spots in the economy and the administration’s efforts to control Covid-19 during his first year in office. However, he missed an important opportunity to connect with the public and focus the tunnel-vision media on the serious legislation he wants to advance.

For example, early on Biden proposed reversing some of the tax cuts for giant corporations and the super-wealthy that Trump rammed through Congress in 2017. Biden did not say why it is urgent for Congress to act on this matter or explain that these taxes are necessary not just for fairness, but to pay for the major proposals he has on Capitol Hill. Therefore, the media will not pay attention and assume he has given up.

Calling himself a “union guy” for decades, Biden inexplicably did not give a shout-out for a higher federal minimum wage, now frozen at $7.25 an hour. The House Democrats passed a bill increasing the minimum wage in stages to $15 but the bill is stuck in the Senate and threatened by an anti-worker GOP filibuster. He also could have brought national attention to the House-passed “Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” that makes it less difficult to form unions. This legislation is also mired in the Senate. The President’s failure to mention these proposals signals to the press that these bills are off the table for this election year. Consequently, reporters don’t write about these important measures.

Biden portrayed his Republican enemies in the Senate with weak language, asking thrice whether there was anything the GOP was for. That criticism could have been far more penetrating had he enumerated ten proposals, passed in the House, that the corporate-indentured Republicans in both the House and Senate were against big time. Imagine the impact, for example, of noting the GOP blocking the renewal of $300 or $250 monthly checks to over 65 million children (both liberal and conservative families in need) in a mid-winter pandemic. Why not mention expanding Medicare for the elderly, or rebuilding America in every community—the latter desired by just about every local chamber of commerce, union, and small business? Such concise contrasts by Biden would have sent the cruel duo, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy reeling.

Biden spoke of infrastructure, to be sure, but didn’t highlight the appeal to specific local interests and the overwhelming public support. He should have also warned big business to stop grabbing and corrupting the safety net assistance for deprived small business, under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He could have referred to the Inspector General’s exposés at the Small Business Administration (SBA), which have gone almost unnoticed.

Biden marveled at the fact that not one Republican senator has dissented from draconian do-nothing Republican leaders. Unfortunately, the Democrats assured the Republican lock-step by not trying months ago to intensely spin-off some GOP Senators starting with the five not running for re-election and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT). Romney says he hasn’t received one call from the White House.

Presidential remarks at press conferences needn’t devote more than two or three sentences to alert the country and the media to an administration’s priorities. Biden’s omissions were puzzling indeed by comparison to his own previous policy stands.

As a long-time corporate Democrat, it was not surprising that Biden did not mention law and order for the corporate crooks that have hugely ripped off government programs, as well as exploiting consumers and workers. But then he doesn’t exactly have the strong support from the Democratic Party or the Democratic National Committee (DNC) down to the state committees whose hands are out 24/7 for corporate campaign contributions.

Equally disappointing were the reporters’ questions narrowly ranging over a small number of issues – voting rights, the votes in Congress, his declining poll numbers, and Ukraine. The White House Press Corps, as the legendary pioneer Helen Thomas would politely point out, censors itself when it isn’t fearful of its bosses or being sycophantic. There were no questions on what Biden wants, but omitted. There were no questions on the corporate domination of just about every sector of our government and its political economy. And there were no questions about the bloated, unauditable, draining military budget to which was added $24 billion more than Biden and the Pentagon requested.

Consumers are hurt by gouging prices, deceptive practices, and blocked remedies. Many workers have widespread occupational hazards, low pay, and few benefits, yet they are taking more opportunities in a period of temporary labor shortages to form unions among some big-box chains and retailers (Starbucks, Amazon). The White House Press Corps repeatedly fails to ask questions that ordinary people would want answered about their conditions.

When Biden signals his acceptance of only pieces of his proposals being passed, he pre-signals defeat and weakens his negotiating leverage in advance. Presidents who appear weak diminish per se their influence with Congress.

Perhaps the media’s worst performance last Wednesday was their war-inciting, history-forgetting questions about Ukraine – goading a properly cautious Biden. After all, dictator Putin knows how deep Russian memories are of losing about 50 million people from western frontier invasions in World War I and World War II. They know that any Russian leader would oppose NATO, a military alliance against the Soviet Union – bringing weapons and membership to adjacent Ukraine. Nonetheless, the reporters chose war-inciting, not peace-inciting (diplomacy), questions, other than asking about what happened to his campaign promise to end the war in Yemen.

Biden, his advisers, and the Press Corps need to review their performances to avoid future ditto heading. We need to make them care enough to engage in such introspections.

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Eight New Year’s Resolutions for NPR to Consider Now

By Ralph Nader
January 14, 2022

The reasons Congress created NPR (National Public Radio) under the Nixon Administration was to fill the yawning gaps of commercial radio in local, national, and international news coverage and to give voice to the people, without ads. It was to be publicly funded by taxpayers. Almost 51 years later, NPR is now funded heavily by national corporations, with its local affiliates soliciting local business advertisements.

Resolution One: Apart from excellent features around the country and the world, NPR should give voice to what civic groups are doing to improve our country locally and nationally. NPR is heavy on entertainment and entertainers and needs to fill some of that airtime with news of the bedrock civic community in America. The imbalance is serious from the national to the local.

Resolution Two: NPR features many reports and interviews on Race, but needs far more focus on Class. Class exploitation by the rich and powerful corporate supremacists feeds into racial discrimination. The euphemism used is “inequality,” but corporate-bred crime, fraud, and abuse affects all people indiscriminately, which often disproportionately harms minorities. A result of the gross imbalance of time devoted to race and not to class is that indiscriminate injustice is mostly ignored.

Over sixty million very poor whites in our country, if they even bothered to listen to NPR, might ask: “What About Us?”

Focusing on racial plights, without going to its sources in commercial greed, redlining, exploited tenants, lower pay and poverty, substandard health care, rampant overcharging of the poor (recall the book, The Poor Pay More: Consumer Practices of Low-Income Families by David Caplovitz), greater difficulty getting loans, and discrimination against upward mobility to corporate executive ranks, are some examples of systemic commercialism fueling systemic racism.

NPR’s collateral benefit from this inattention is that business advertisers large and small love NPR and its affiliates. This is especially the case for corporations with bad records. NPR should reject ads from disreputable or criminal corporations.

Resolution Three: Stop mimicking commercial radio. NPR’s three-minute news segments on the hour often don’t even match the quality of CBS Radio’s choice of topics. For example, why is tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa problems in Australia at the top of NPR news day after day? As for commercials, NPR stretches the envelope, airing, with its affiliates, as many as 30 ads per hour! Imagine the audience irritation. How many times do we have to hear each hour “NPR is supported by this station…”? NPR gives abundant repetitive ad time to the same few advertisers—Progressive Insurance, C3.AI, etc., that one wonders whether they are assured of exclusivity vis-à-vis competitors. Moreover, NPR starts the evening program Marketplace with ads, which the commercial networks do not do.

Your listeners want you to decongest your ads and some may want to know why you have given up on reversing the relative decline of congressional appropriations. You give ample time to loud right-wingers and right-wing causes. Why aren’t you gaining bipartisan support for more congressional funding?

Resolution Four: Compress the weather forecasts. Back in 1970-1971, Congress knew that commercial radio stations gave plenty of time to weather, traffic, sports, and music. That is still true. So why does WAMC in Albany, an NPR local affiliate, have such lengthy forecasts, some starting with the west coast, with ludicrous repetition for adjacent areas? WAMC is above average in covering local and state governments and candidates for public office with full-time staff.

Resolution Five: NPR should re-evaluate its music policy. NPR takes its weekends seriously, so much so that they take off right at 6:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday evenings. “Let them hear music,” for the rest of the time, as if the world stops then. Also, musical intervals are often too long, inappropriate for their context, and foolishly interjected. NPR’s evening program Marketplace, anchored by jumping-jack Kai Ryssdal, illustrates these observations. Even while he is rapidly giving the stock market numbers, there is background music loud enough to be considered foreground.

Resolution Six: Reconsider the uniform formulaics shackling your reporters. They respond to the anchor’s inquiry with a zigzag between their sound bites and corroborating sound bites from consulting firms, think tanks, and academic commentators. This model has a tedious staccato ring to it, especially since the reporters often, by way of their introduction, repeat what the interviewees are going to say.

Resolution Seven: Correct or explain your major faux pas. NPR staff need tutorials on the constitutional authority of Congress. NPR needs to explain to its listeners why, with all that staff in Washington D.C., it took about 90 minutes (or until about 3:30 pm) to start telling its affiliates about the Jan. 6 violent assault on Congress. Commercial CNN and other commercial media started reporting no later than 2:00 pm that fateful day. “And that’s not the only time NPR has messed up,” said one reporter for WAMC (that annually pays NPR a million dollars for NPR programming).

Resolution Eight: Give your Public Editor, Kelly McBride, a regular public time slot to discuss her insights, presently communicated mostly internally, and to address serious feedback from your listeners about NPR’s broadcasting flaws. (Local affiliates invite political opinions, personal development, and ‘how to’ questions on related shows).

Ms. McBride could share the program with NPR’s CEO—a position more remote from the NPR public every decade. Hear ye John Lansing! Among other benefits, you’ll get good suggestions for important, little-told news stories. (See reportersalert.org)

Congress should hold long needed public hearings in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to ascertain whether the original missions accorded public radio and public broadcasting are being pursued both qualitatively and quantitatively, and whether these networks and their affiliates have steadily strayed from those missions, due in part to the absence of mechanisms for public evaluations and congressional oversight.

There is so much to learn about NPR and PBS about their relations with American Public Media, the BBC, and other connections, to make them better and raise the expectations of their listening audience.

It’s hard not to be complacent when you have so little competition from the commercial stations that for decades have debased our publicly owned airwaves, free of charge.

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Think Big to Overcome Losing Big to Corporatism

By Ralph Nader
January 7, 2022

The progressive citizen groups, that in the sixties and seventies, drove through Congress the key environmental, worker, and consumer legislation, since unmatched, must feel nostalgic. Those were the years when legislation throwing cruel companies on the defensive was signed by arch-corporatist, President Richard Nixon, because he read the political tea leaves.

These bills included the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental laws, the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for worker health and safety, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and worker pension protection, among others.

Alas, Richard Nixon was the last Republican president to be afraid of liberals. When grade B actor Ronald Reagan flew into Washington, he opened all doors to Big Business. A cruel man with a smile, Reagan gave an actor’s cover to the greatest collapse into the corporate power pits in American history.

Here is a checklist showing the takeovers of our government at all levels by the corporate supremacists for whom enough is never enough when it came to profits and power.

1. Regulatory agencies curbing corporate ravages were essentially shut down. Reaganites thought companies should regulate themselves when it comes to the health, safety, and economic well-being of the American people; which is to say, the corporate rule took over the rule of law.

2. Labor unions were weakened by timid leadership, anti-labor policies, acceleration of job exports, and the major shift by the Democratic Party to solicit money from rapidly expanding corporate political action committees (PACs).

3. Congress abandoned its role of checks and balances and gave much of its constitutional power to the imperial, autocratic presidency. This concentration of power and secrecy in the White House seriously weakened the power of civic groups that had been able to start their reform drives in Congress.

4. The consequences of corporatizing Congress allowed the tax system to be filled with escapes and lower rates for the super-rich and global corporations. It allowed presidents to get corporatist judges confirmed to dominate the courts. It permitted total inaction on the necessity of strengthening our federal corporate criminal laws, including antitrust enforcement and laws, so out of date that they became out of mind by the supposed enforcers in the Executive Branch.

5. A spineless Congress fell to its knees before the military-industrial complex so much so that the bloated unaudited ‘defense’ budget zoomed over 50% of discretionary spending by the federal government. The military empire grew without congressional oversight.

6. Meanwhile, the corporate giants became dominant in weakening the private pillars of American law. They turned freedom of contracts into fine-print consumer servitude, while coercing consumers into also giving up key rights and remedies under the law of torts should they incur wrongful injuries.

A manipulated credit economy took away consumers’ control over their own money, subjecting them to penalties, ultimatums, and punitive credit scores.

7. Without challenge to their marketing, corporations commercialized childhood, directly selling to kids junk foods and junk drinks that set off the deadly obesity epidemic and its health-damaging results. They sold violent programming and exploited the weaknesses of children, circumventing parental authority and discipline.

In the Internet Age, corporations can be described as raising our children, getting their personal information for free, and selling this collected data to advertisers. They are trapping these youngsters in the peonage of click-on contracts they never see through in their daily screen hours.

Whether in reality or virtual reality, corporations have become electronic child molesters with few pursuing sheriffs.

8. Corporate globalization has erected mechanisms such as corporate-managed trade agreements that operate to pull down our standards for workers, consumers, and the environment to the lower levels of developing countries, many of them under dictatorial regimes.

9. Decades after warnings by scientists of rising global warming, the fossil fuel giants, while on the defensive, still have the economy in their clutches, slowing their substitutes of conservation and renewable energy.

10. Corporate welfare is larger, more varied, and more automatic than ever. Subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts are now routinely enacted by little-challenged, government-guaranteed capitalism at the federal and state levels!

Big corporations even control the wealth owned by the people such as the public lands, public airwaves, and trillions of dollars in pension and mutual funds.

11. Voting rights and electoral accuracies are being undermined in many states by legislation.

12. Medicare is being corporatized (over 40% of elderly beneficiaries are under corporate plans). Billing fraud is greater than ever (reaching $360 billion in 2021 just in the healthcare industry). Traditional defined benefit pension plans are disappearing, with the unstable 401K as a replacement if workers are lucky enough to have any retirement savings plans at the workplace.

Clearly, the situation in our political economy is getting worse by the year. To be sure, progressive groups have maintained some successes such as the near abolition of most uses of deadly asbestos, lead out of paint and gasoline, safer cars, better labelling, more recalls, removals of unsafe or ineffective drugs, and reduction of air and water pollutants. Civil rights and children protection laws still have some teeth. But civic groups are winning some skirmishes, while losing the battle and the war to the entrenched corporate state. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Congress in 1938 – whenever private power takes control of the government, that is fascism.

These citizen groups and their supporters must now step back and develop a ten-year Plan to overpower the corporate state with a democratic state. The people, however passive now, are largely on their side. Originally, in their state chartering days of the early 19th century, corporations were expected to be our servants not our masters. The reverse is now true.

This plan will require thousands of new organizers, lobbyists, strategists, and all the skills used by big corporations. It will also require systematically connecting with enlightened billionaires, already worried about our country’s slide into the abyss, for a budget of at least $10 billion over ten years.

Otherwise, ongoing skirmishes will continue to lower the expectations by progressive civic groups to a point of self-delusion.

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What are Torts? They’re Everywhere!

By Ralph Nader
December 29, 2021

What exposed the Tobacco industry’s carcinogenic cover-up? The lethal asbestos industry cover-up? The General Motors’ deadly ignition switch defect cover-up? The Catholic Church’s pedophile scandal? All kinds of toxic waste poisonings?

Not the state legislatures of our country. Not Congress. Not the regulatory agencies of our federal or state governments. These abuses and other wrongs were exposed by lawsuits brought by individuals or groups of afflicted plaintiffs using the venerable American law of torts.

Almost every day, the media reports on stories of injured parties using our legal system to seek justice for wrongful injuries. Unfortunately, the media almost never mentions that the lawsuits were filed under the law of torts.

Regularly, the media reports someone filing a civil rights lawsuit or a civil liberties lawsuit. When was the last time you read, heard, or saw a journalist start their report by saying…“so and so today filed a tort lawsuit against a reckless manufacturer or a sexual predator, or against the wrongdoers who exposed the people of a town like Flint, Michigan to harmful levels of lead in drinking water? Or lawsuits against Donald Trump for ugly defamations or sexual assaults”?

I was recently discussing this strange omission with Richard Newman, former executive director of the American Museum of Tort Law and a former leading trial attorney in Connecticut. He too was intrigued. He told me that when high school students tour the Museum, their accompanying teachers often admit that they themselves never heard of tort law!

Last fall, a progressive talk show host, who has had many victims of wrongful injuries on her show, visited the museum. While walking through the door, she too declared that she didn’t know what tort law was. She certainly did after spending an hour touring the museum. (See tortmuseum.org).

Public ignorance about tort law should have been taken care of in our high schools. Sadly even some lawyers advised us not to use the word “tort” in the Museum’s name because nobody would know what it meant.

“Tort” comes from the French word for “a wrongful injury.” Millions of torts involving people and property occur every year. Bullies in schools, assaults, negligent drivers, hazardous medicines, defective motor vehicles, toxic chemicals, hospital and medical malpractices, and occupational diseases, and more can all be the sources of a tort claim.

Yes, crimes are almost always torts as well. When police officers use wildly excessive force and innocent people die, families can sue the police department under tort law and have recovered compensation for “wrongful deaths.”

American law runs on the notion that “for every wrong, there should be a remedy.” When Americans get into trouble with the law, they are told by judges that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” and that “you are presumed to know the law.” In that case, why then don’t we teach the rudiments of tort law (or fine print contract law for that matter) in high schools?

After all, youngsters are not exempt from wrongful injuries in their daily street and school lives. Just recently, scores of schools’ drinking water fountains were found to contain dangerous levels of lead. That is a detectable, preventable condition and would be deemed gross negligence invoking tort law.

Most remarkably, the insurance industry has spent billions of dollars over the past fifty years on advertising and demanding “tort reform”, meaning restricting the rights of claimants who go to court and capping the compensation available to injured patients no matter how serious their disability. Still the public’s curiosity was never quickened to learn more about tort law and trial by jury. The right to trial by jury is older than the American Revolution, is protected by the seventh amendment to our Constitution and is available to be used by injured parties to help defend against or deter those who would expose people and their property to wrongful harm or damage.

One way to educate people is to do what a physician friend of mine did at a conference of Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialists. He walked in wearing a Tort Museum T-Shirt, raising eyebrows and provoking discussion.

There are, of course, more systematic ways to inform Americans about tort law. Bring the high school curriculums down to earth and educate students about this great pillar of American freedom. Devote one of the 600 cable channels in America to teaching citizens about the law, and how to use it to improve levels of justice in our country.

From social media to traditional media, the law of torts needs to be illustrated with actual case studies showing its great contribution and even greater potential to provide compensation for or deterrence to all kinds of preventable violence.

Artists and musicians should use their talents to convey many of these David vs. Goliath battles in our courts of law. Oh, for a great song on the delights of having a jury bring a wrongdoer to justice.

The powerless can hold the powerful accountable, with a contingent fee attorney. Tort law remains vastly underutilized—though it is before us in plain sight. The plutocrats must be happy that so few people know about or use the remedies available through tort law.

Hear this practicing plaintiff lawyers—wherever you are: You number 60,000 strong in the U.S. If you each speak to small groups—classes, clubs, reunions, etc.—totaling some 1,000 people a year, that is 60 million people receiving knowledge central to their quality of life and security. Every year! Fascinating human interest stories full of courage, persistence, and vindication of critical rights will captivate and inspire your audiences. What say you, “officers of the court”?

Watch “Litigation and Advocacy to Confront and Survive the Climate Crisis“, a panel discussion presented by the American Museum of Tort Law.

This article first appeared February 20, 2019.

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Ralph Nader’s Holiday Season Top Reading Recommendations

By Ralph Nader
December 22, 2021

The most important books exposing real injustices are often the least read. Nearly all of the hundreds of thousands of neighborhood book clubs insist on only reading and discussing works of fiction. They don’t want hard feelings over disagreements.

Major book awards and prizes rarely select books addressing corporate crimes and what to do about them.

Not surprisingly, you rarely read about these books or see or hear about them on television and radio shows, including PBS and NPR. Corporate funders prefer convenient alternatives such as art, culture, history, and entertainment.

The following recent books connect us to the grim reality, pulling us back from myths and virtual reality escapes to the societal mirror we all must face for the common good of today and tomorrow.

1. Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America by Eyal Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. Someone has to do the dirty work for society’s survival. But these workers get paid too little and are unprotected so they become casualties.

2. The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class by Thom Hartmann, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2021. No one presents the forgotten history of evil corporate power more concisely and relevantly than the erudite daily radio talk show host, Thom Hartmann. Try him and see.

3. Power to the People: A Young People’s Guide to Fighting for Our Rights as Citizens and Consumers by Richard Panchyk, Seven Stories Press, 2021. Give an eye-opening gift for teens and for those a little older. Surprise them.

4. The Profit Paradox: How Thriving Firms Threaten the Future of Work by Jan Eeckhout, Princeton University Press, 2021. The author demonstrates how the unbridled market power of giant corporations has “suffocated the world of work,” which could lead to disastrous market corrections and political turmoil.

5. Unsettled: How the Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Failed the Victims of the American Overdose Crisis by Ryan Hampton, St. Martin’s Press, 2021. Ryan Hampton – a victim himself – shows what must be done to hold these dangerous corporate hucksters accountable and help prevent the human casualties of such avaricious profiteering.

6. Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing by Peter Robison, Doubleday, 2021. Robison takes you inside the Boeing company and its decaying monetized culture. He reaches inside the manslaughtering stealth software that took over the planes from their pilots and drove one new 737 MAX on a death trip into the Java Sea and another 737 MAX deep into Ethiopian farmland.

7. First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat by Christopher W. Shaw, City Lights, 2021. Shaw showcases the magnificent historical contributions of Benjamin Franklin’s grand idea as background to the struggle between a people’s post office and the grasping corporate supremacists. Shaw shows ways for the people to prevail.

8. Twelve Ways to Save Democracy in Wisconsin by Matthew Rothschild, University of Wisconsin Press, 2021. Learn practical steps to shift political and electoral power to all the people, not just Wisconsinites, from a long-time progressive activist and writer.

9. 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting by E.J. Dionne Jr., and Miles Rapoport, The New Press, 2022. They make the case for voting as a legal, civic duty which can dissolve all the proliferating obstacles to and the current suppression of voting. Universal voting is a one-stop antidote to massive corruption of our elections and the billions of bigoted, commercial dollars infesting the corrupters with impunity.

10. Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War by Erik Edstrom, a West Point graduate, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020. This galvanizing call to our country makes a broad and deep case against militarism, boomeranging empire, and its devouring of America. You’ll want to read this declaration of conscience, facts, and reason – twice!

11. Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison by Chris Hedges, Simon & Schuster, 2021. Hedges exposes the problems that plague our society’s criminal injustice system. He is a truth-teller and thinker who knows our country has to do better.

12. Closing Death’s Door: Legal Innovations to End the Epidemic of Healthcare Harm by Michael J. Saks and Stephan Landsman, Oxford University Press, 2021. The third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer, is from avoidable errors by the healthcare industry. The authors carefully calculate the loss from health harm is about 400,000 lives every year plus more avoidable injuries and diseases afflicting survivors. Federal and state governments do almost nothing about this preventable toll.

Special Recommendation:

13. Old Growth: The Best Writing About Trees From Orion, Orion Magazine, 2021. Trees will look very different to you after reading this collection of essays about their intelligence, resiliency, offerings, necessity, and adversaries. Don’t be surprised if on your walks soon, you find yourself hugging them.

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Rare Unionizing Opportunity in Big Box and Retail Chains

By Ralph Nader
December 17, 2021

This is the most opportune time for millions of workers in Big Box retail stores and fast-food outlets to form unions. McDonald’s, Walmart, Amazon, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, and other giant chains are having trouble finding enough workers. Some of these companies are even paying signing bonuses and upping low pay.

Chalk it up to the pandemic’s dislocations when millions of workers left their jobs, and many have not yet returned. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) see the opportunity of a lifetime, but are they putting enough organizing resources into this effort?

For over four decades, unions of all kinds in the corporate economy have been in decline. Only six percent of private sector workers are now in unions. However, polls are showing a high favorability level for unions, following worker heroics on behalf of Covid-19 victims.

The House of Representatives has passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – opposed by the Republican corporatists – but Senate prospects are dim due to the same GOP corporatists. Why the Senate Democrats are not regularly holding hearings on the plights of non-union working families can only be answered by Majority Leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.

Since Reagan took office in January 1981, organized labor has been battered by numerous forces. These include (1) the eight years of Ronald Reagan, Union-buster-in-chief, owning the White House, (2) ever greater exportation of jobs propelled by large companies abandoning the U.S. for communist and fascist dictatorships abroad with their legions of serf labor, and (3) growing automations of the workplace. Mediocre leadership of many unions has not helped either.

Younger people in these giant retail outlets have little knowledge of how unions saved the working classes in the 20th century from many of the cruelest treatments by corporate capitalism. Current union educational efforts are filling some of this gap of why, how, and where to form a union – though not with the intensity of the late union leaders Tony Mazzocchi and Harry Kelber. Mr. Kelber was the greatest writer of popular “how to” pamphlets for workers seeking unions. (See: laboreducator.org).

While the big retailers may sporadically fill worker gaps with one-time economic incentives, they are still run by the same old union busting bosses with their union busting, pricey law firms and consultants.

Their mantra – crush any tiny unionizing effort at any store, no matter its costs. A few weeks ago, Dollar General, with over 7,000 stores nationwide, crushed such an effort in a Dollar General store in Winsted, Connecticut. They sent in five “consultants” to stay in the store at a stunning $2700 each a day, according to a long page-one article in the Washington Post. These and other corporate intimidators sometimes outnumbered the six employees during the unionizing drive, until the unionists narrowly lost the vote to the other frightened employees. One employee was dismissed for being pro-union but reinstated for the vote.

There are major strikes by workers at John Deere, Kellogg, and some other large manufacturing firms. Right now, however, the big battle that should be joined is with Big Retail, where the jobs making burgers or coffee cannot be exported.

The takeaway from all this is threefold.

First, the Democratic Party should scale up its enthusiasm and backing of these valiant workers, right down to the local Democratic Party committees.

Second, same is true for the AFL-CIO which can provide stronger backup of the federation’s member unions and press the Biden Administration to strongly enforce labor laws that are routinely, says the AFL-CIO website, violated by companies with impunity.

Third, consumers and their organizations should elevate their support for paid sick leave, adequate healthcare, safe working conditions, and fair wages; if not for solidarity, then for safely served food. Consumers should not want to see hard-pressed, sick workers having to serve them, to pay bills.

For labor, this is a briefly open window in history. Robotics and surplus labor will soon be closing it. Unions need to move at unaccustomed and rapid speeds now!

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For Year End Charitable Giving—Some Worthy Organizations

There are many active, serving citizen groups that further the cause of, by and for the people. Perhaps you may be interested in the following list of groups which we have donated to recently. They are all 501(c)(3) organizations and therefore tax deductible.

If you can, give them a lifting hand.

Best wishes for the coming year,

Ralph Nader

Alternative Radio
Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest
Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest
Beyond Nuclear
Beyond Pesticides
Center for Health, Environment & Justice
Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment
Children’s Advocacy Institute
Clean Air Campaign Inc. [Send donations to: 307 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10001.]
Doctors Without Borders USA
Earth Island Institute
Family Farm Defenders
Honor the Earth
Indian Law Resource Center
Institute for Nonprofit News
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
Veterans for Peace
Western Organization of Resource Councils Education Project
Whirlwind Wheelchair
Flyers Rights
Solitary Watch

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