Challenge Government’s Autocratic Incommunicados

By Ralph Nader
July 9, 2021

The First Amendment to our Constitution declares that Congress cannot abridge the right of the people “…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Unfortunately, this vital tool of our democracy is easily circumvented by Congress simply not responding whatsoever to “petitions” by the citizenry. This government undermining of our constitutional right is producing invincibly incommunicado government officials.

Countless times over the years, I have asked civic group leaders about the outcome of their “petition,” their deliberative letters, their serious requests regarding desired policy changes, public hearings, new initiatives, and reversal of courses of actions. Their replies have almost always been no answer, no response, didn’t hear from them, and not even an acknowledgment of receipt.

This government of the incommunicado, by the incommunicado, and for the incommunicado infects both Congress and Executive Branch agencies.

I am not referring to congressional “casework” matters or letters and calls from campaign donors, social buddies, nor the easy letters by politicians on the occasion of birthdays and graduations.

I am referring to letters about serious matters of government raised by the citizenry. George W. Bush, during the weeks leading up to his criminal, bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003, received over twelve urgent, organized requests to meet from Americans. These requests turned out to be prophetic in their warnings about the deadly consequences of this unconstitutional, illegal war. These informed entreaties came from large religious organizations, business, labor, peace, veterans, lawyers, and women’s groups, as well as former intelligence officials, some of whom had recently returned from Iraq or had direct experience with the region.

They wrote, telephoned, and emailed the White House. There was not even an acknowledgment. It was as if these citizens did not exist.

Over two years later the American Bar Association (ABA) – the largest membership organization of lawyers in the country – sent Bush and Cheney three “white papers” written by ABA task forces of lawyers who served under both Republican and Democratic Administrations. These task forces charged the White House with three significant violations of the Constitution (See: https://nader.org/2013/04/19/aba-white-papers/). The ABA did not receive an acknowledgment, never mind a response. There wasn’t even a White House referral for review by the Justice Department for a response.

Our experience in recent years has confirmed that being an arrogant, incommunicado government official is now entrenched government policy. Yet, such closed-door inaction is not considered news by the media, including the independent media.

Together with two leading constitutional law specialists, Bruce Fein and Louis Fisher, I have sent scores of requests for action regarding an array of criminal and civil violations – many impeachable offenses – by Trump to the Executive Branch agencies and departments as well as Democratic leaders in Congress. Only one response from Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) was received, only because the letter was related to his prior support for invoking the 25th Amendment.

But our letters went way beyond Trump. Letters of import were sent, backed by phone calls and emails to Commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, chairs of Congressional Committees and Subcommittees, and many more. We received no response, nor any acknowledgment. Into a depthless void they were sent, by people whose jobs, salaries, and power come from the sovereignty and tax dollars of the people.

Some of these politicians might be considered political allies. Try getting Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to return a call or respond to an invitation to be on our weekly radio show and podcast to discuss serious matters. Progressive chairs of the Senate and the House Committees on Financial Services became incommunicado after receiving two of our requests to hold long-overdue hearings on public banking and reinstating the postal savings bank. Both Senator Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Maxine Waters chose to be incommunicado.

Among the worst is crypto Republican, the nominally Democratic Chair of the tax-writing U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal (D-MA). (https://neal.house.gov/).

After one hundred or more serious letters to George W. Bush and Barack Obama went unanswered, I compiled them into a book titled, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015, Seven Stories Press 2015 (See, https://nader.org/books/return-to-sender/).

We don’t take our government officials being incommunicado personally. We take this civically and seriously. Even members of Congress routinely do not get replies to their letters directed at the Executive Branch departments. Congressional Committee subpoenas are ignored – subpoenas! – by both Republican and Democratic Presidents. Trump set the all-time record – defying over one hundred subpoenas without so much as an acknowledgment. Why, members of Congress have told us that their own letters to other members of Congress go unanswered!

Last year, former Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) communicated to his good friends in the House, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), regarding a proposal to shield government Covid-19 scientists from White House madness. He got no response at all.

The straight-arm culture is omnipresent because there is no penalty, no accountability, no legal action possible for inaction, and there is no media exposure. Journalists could care less, because they are more likely to get some response to their inquiries and, if not, they simply report the lack of a reply or comment in their stories. Civic groups do not want to publicly complain, because they would appear powerless and weak. Many simply stop communicating their new horizons and urgencies.

In the nineteen sixties and seventies – until the dark Reagan years – citizen group letters for demands, requests, or advice to government officials were made public. Often the press would report on such initiatives. Politicians felt some heat to hold hearings, demand Executive Branch action, or introduce legislation. Today the absence of media coverage gives our incommunicado government officials little incentive to address civic calls to action.

Today the silence is deafening. Just try calling your members of Congress, not as one of their donors or golf companions, but as a serious informed citizen behaving as described in Civics 101. Note the automated runaround, where you end up not connecting with any real person and leaving a message that goes unanswered.

This shut-out got worse under Covid-19, but long preceded that convenient explanation for not having real human beings answer telephone calls to Congressional offices. The switchboard number for Congress is 202-224-3121. Ask for your incommunicado lawmaker or their chief of staff by name. Be patient, the Congress has taken off most of the summer until after Labor Day while still collecting their pay and perks. All the backlogged undone work on Capitol Hill can be once again deferred and avoided to the detriment of “the People.”

Whatever happened to “We the People,” people? Among other nullifications of your Constitution by Congress is that aforementioned part of the First Amendment. If members of Congress aren’t listening or responding except to commercial lobbyists and some causes that happen by gut-wrenching tragedy to be in the news, Congress just becomes a stone-walling dictatorship for lawlessness, servicing the always welcomed lawless, self-enriching plutocracy.

(To read some of our letters, go to nader.org).

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Mind-Stretching Summertime Book Recommendations

By Ralph Nader
July 2, 2021

1. Honor Thy Label: Dr. Bronner’s Unconventional Journey to a Clean, Green, and Ethical Supply Chain by Gero Leson. Dr. Leson, Bronner’s vice president, tells the inside story of pioneering efforts for “building and scaling” ethical production, cooperating with suppliers in Sri Lanka, Ghana, India, Palestine, and beyond, and embracing Fair Trade and Regenerative organic agriculture.

2. To Be A Water Protector: The Rise of the Wiindigoo Slayers by Winona LaDuke. To readers who take water for granted, read LaDuke, indigenous leader, farmer, advocate, and inimitable storyteller about natives who, beset by ruthless extractive corporations, can’t take water for granted. Learn about water protectors in action by the few and for the many.

3. When Reagan Sent in the Marines by Patrick J. Sloyan. A Sloyan classic of on the ground reporting in Lebanon, with broader contexts, and a historical contribution in understanding what happened, why, and the consequences. Certainly a required reading by those in the State Department, the Pentagon, Congress, and peace advocates everywhere.

4. The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town by Brian Alexander. This small Ohio community hospital, struggling to continue, reveals, in the hands of master narrator, Alexander, the sickness, greed, rapacity, and cruelty of the so-called health industry. He exposes “the human cost of the war being waged on Americans by the medical industry, politicians, and big businesses.” Single-payer anyone? (See: singlepayeraction.org).

5. The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State by David Vine. It takes an anthropologist, who gets into the field, to describe “the powerful forces that have shaped the permanent system of imperial war in which the United States is trapped today.” As Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson (Ret) declares: “This book will stir your soul – if you have one left – to action.”

6. The Case Against George W. Bush by Steven C. Markoff, with a foreword by Richard A. Clarke, who was special assistant to GWB for national security. Markoff doesn’t forget the massive war crimes of GWB who, receiving ample lecture and book advance fees, never looks back on the thousands of U.S. soldiers who lost their lives or their health while causing over one million innocent Iraqi deaths and the pulverizing of Iraqi society, which is in chaos to this day. Markoff wants George W. Bush brought to justice. He makes the case with relentless documentation.

7. Defending the Public Enemy: The Life and Legacy of Ramsey Clark by Lonnie T. Brown Jr. From his time as U.S. Attorney General until his recent passing, Ramsey Clark’s remarkably brave engagements for human rights, uncompromising due process of law even for a captive dictator, and the plight of the downtrodden, received scant media attention. This book resurrects the story of an authentic, selfless life of a tireless American advocate for global justice. (Also see the documentary: Citizen Clark: A Life of Principle).

8. America’s Mighty Medical-Industrial Complex: Negative Impacts and Positive Solutions by Dr. John Geyman. Even if you’re not one of the many millions of Americans harmed, defrauded, or denied by the healthcare corporations, the drug companies, and giant taxpayer-subsidized insurers, this clear compelling book will make your blood boil. A former family practitioner, professor of medicine and author of a dozen books on this industry, Dr. Geyman makes the case for Single-payer – comprehensive, lifesaving, less expensive with free choice of physician and hospital. He’ll send a free copy of his book, in your name, to your members of Congress if you send him a personal note to your Senator or Representative and demand a considered response. Send your note and the name of your Representative and/or Senators to: [email protected]).

9. Lincolnomics: How President Lincoln Constructed the Great American Economy by John F. Wasik. While revealing as history, Wasik’s account about the first Republican President’s launches of infrastructure shame the ignorant, obstinate, narcissist Republicans of today who wish instead to build up tyrant Trump’s political infrastructure. This is a book to be read and used today.

10. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition). Why not read the dictionary as you read a history or a novel, page by page? It’s a wonderful educational immersion that excoriates tedium and opens zillions of windows. (There are also many informative sketches in modern dictionaries).

On the gift shop wall at the American Museum of Tort Law (take a virtual tour at tortmuseum.org), where there is a sign that declares: “Readers Think and Thinkers Read.” They also are more likely to engage in strengthening our deteriorating democracy – a task that is easier than we think. (See, Breaking Through Power, both the book and the eight days at Constitution Hall).

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Leaves Must Be Canceled. All Hands on the Congressional Deck.

Ralph Nader
June 25, 2021

Open letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Leader Senator Chuck Schumer:

Readers of the Washington Post this past Sunday, many of whom work at least a 40-hour week with short vacations, were informed by reporter Paul Kane about the large number of recess days the Senate and the House are taking this summer. In the midst of a huge backlog of critical legislation – as with the multi-trillion-dollar public and human infrastructure bills and other responsibilities deferred under prior periods of Republican control – these recess periods constitute reckless abandon and endangerment to the country.

Here are Mr. Kane’s words:

“When the Senate finishes up Thursday [June 24th, 2021], the chamber will shut down until July 12 for an unusually long Independence Day recess. After returning for four weeks, the Senate is supposed to break by Aug. 6 for more than four weeks of the beloved August recess. That’s a nearly 75-day run from late June through Labor Day in which current planning would have senators here voting about 16 days.”

“The original House schedule is even more impractical. When members of the House leave town July 1, they are slated to be in session just two of the next 11 weeks.”

“Yes, you read that right. From July 2 through Sept. 19, the House is only in session for nine days.”

It gets worse. As with other long absences throughout the year, all these recesses come with full pay and with bipartisan concurrence. But there is no agreement on Biden’s big-ticket legislative initiatives that should be dealt with, with meticulous detail to assure that whatever passes comes with rigorous oversight by adequate overseers for preventing waste, fraud, and abuse in the Executive Branch departments and agencies. That takes Congressional work.

Even when Congress is in session, Senators and Representatives usually work a three-day week – Tuesdays to Thursdays – with time to rush to nearby campaign offices and dial for campaign dollars.

Committee Chairs could hold hearings during these long recesses. But there are few legislators today like the workhorse Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, William Proxmire, who logged day after day of oversight hearings while his colleagues were on junkets overseas or at rich watering holes, compliments of business lobbyists.

The recklessly limited work time explains, in part, why the Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn’t force the Republicans to actually filibuster for all to see on national television their venomous, avaricious opposition to the pro-people, worker, consumer, patient, and children programs they have been blocking. All Senator “NO” Mitch McConnell, the Republicans self-styled “Grim Reaper,” does is communicate filibuster threats through the media to Schumer. The Democrats then cave in to defeat because of few working days to push for an actual filibuster on the Senate floor.

These luxurious schedules are not set in stone. They were developed last December by the Democratic leadership; those same leaders can put all the 535 members of the Senate and the House to work. They also should deal with appropriations bills, and long-delayed nominees or forthcoming nominees by Biden to head agencies, and the lifting of the federal debt limit to avert a government shutdown, and more.

I think more of the 500 reporters covering Congress full time should do what Paul Kane has done and report these absurdly long AWOLs to the people back home. Editorials can urge people to collar their members of Congress and say:

Go back to work – five, six, or seven days if necessary to do your duties. Get serious lawmakers! You hold in trust the sovereign power of the American people. We have given you handsome pay, benefits, perks, services, staff, and a powerfully air-conditioned Capitol to perform your constitutional duties with due deliberation. You must not end up in frantic deadlines legislating with all the sloppy drafting, unintended consequences, and loopholes for greedy commercial interests.

There is a neglected aspect of all this absenteeism for the Democrats agenda. Staying on the job could let Democrats draw vivid kitchen-table distinctions between them and the corporatist Wall Street over Main Street Republicans with their penchant for grossly under-taxing the super-rich and giant corporations at the expense of (1) middle-class taxpayers, and (2) programs of public services and the private necessity for the impoverished and other families in need through no fault of their own.

So, let’s get going Americans. Call your Senators and Representatives. The switchboard number (open 24/7) for Congress is 202-224-3121. The operators, who have to stay on the job, will steer you to your named Senators and Representatives. Tell your members of Congress to camp out on Capitol Hill. Tell them to earn their pay and respect the power given to them by the people.

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It’s the Iron Collar of the Corporate State Until the People Collar the Congress

By Ralph Nader

Back in the mid-nineteen-fifties, the prolific, progressive political economist, Harvard’s John Kenneth Galbraith, developed his “theory of countervailing powers.” He asserted as big business got bigger, its overreach would be constrained by strong labor unions, regulators, and antitrust enforcement. Inside the realm of large companies, big retail chains could check the power of large manufacturers.

Around the same time, the savvy corporate lawyer/author, Adolf Berle developed his concept of “pension fund capitalism.” That is, fast-expanding worker pension funds would own large amounts of the shares of large corporations as investments and thereby have commensurate influence over them and over Congress.

As the years passed, these two scholars came to realize that the stamina, resilience, and single-minded cohesiveness for maximizing sales, profits, and executive pay by corporate bosses overwhelmed the countervailing forces, including corporate shareholder-owners, not so singularly motivated.

The remarkable, many-faceted display of resurgent controlling power is able to game, co-opt, corrupt, weaken, replace, or escape forces designed to make CEOs behave and make corporations accountable to shareholders and other stakeholders.

1. The top choice for taming excessive corporate power is governments at the national, state, and local level because the government is the only real source of law and power with the potential to restrain corporate crime, fraud, and various abuses. The corporate power formula is: finance lawmakers’ campaigns, shape the selection of executive branch nominees, surround them with sweet-talking lobbyists holding carrots in front and sticks behind their back to get top government appointments in the executive and judicial branches to be from the corporate ranks or ideologies, and dangle lucrative post-government service positions in industry and commerce for compliant former government officials.

When global capitalism becomes prominent, corporations get trade agreements through Congress that are really not “free trade,” but corporate-managed trade to the detriment of democracy and domestic labor, consumer, and environmental interests. (See, Global Trade Watch: https://www.citizen.org/topic/globalization-trade/).

As with all their campaigns, big business vastly outnumbers their opponents with enormous monies and legions of full-time staff.

2. Slashing labor union power from its peak in the nineteen sixties was fairly easy. Neutralize the National Labor Relations Board, block labor empowerment legislation, pass right-to-work (right to shirk) laws in 21 states for a pull-down effect on the remaining states; use automation and leaving the country as cudgels; publicize union corruption, co-opt leaders of unions when possible, control many worker pension plans, and make sure the suffocating Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 remains untouched and undiscussed. Disable OSHA, the job safety agency, and keep the Secretary of Labor a second-class status.

3. Civic and worker access to the courts? No problem. Get corporatist judges installed right up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unleash the corporate law firms to tie up the people in one-sided fine print contracts that block consumer remedies and take away consumer rights while weakening tort law through state legislative regulation of judges and juries.

4. Entrench asymmetric entitlements, dominated by corporate welfare, bailouts, handouts, and giveaways rarely overseen by Congress and immune from annual renewals. The rip-off by corporate contractors of the American taxpayer goes far beyond the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address. Taxpayers are shut out, and not allowed to have ‘legal standing to sue’ for waste, corruption, or unlawful government contracts.

5. Big business domination of small business has been reduced to a normal practice of doing business, whether by anti-competitive behavior (as on Amazon’s platforms), cruel franchise servitude by giant chains, or by running small inventors and entrepreneurs into the ground with costly litigation or the threat of such harassment.

6. Immunities and Escapes. When multinational corporations choose not to pay taxes, they go to foreign tax havens (as described so well in Chuck Collin’s new book The Wealth Hoarders (https://inequality.org/wealthhoarders/) or push for carve-out escapes in the tax code with their Democratic and Republican allies in Congress.

Corporations also profit from their own harms, as has been the case with pushing opioids, overdiagnosing and overprescribing medicines (with negative side-effects), and fostering a marketplace of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes with their well-documented, insidious promotions aimed at children of junk fat, sugar, and salt in food and drink.

As for the countervailing “independent” professions of law, accounting, science, medicine, and engineering, forget it. They long ago lost their independence to the heavy corporatization of their daily practice, including the professional graduate schools.

Taken together, we are sequestered in a mature no-fault and immune corporate state the likes of which was called “fascism” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1938 message to Congress successfully urging the establishment of a commission to investigate concentrated corporate power. The commission did admirably, but then nothing happened as World War II took over the nation’s politics.

Here and there in the past eighty years, there have been victories for the people. Constraining the power of the tobacco, auto, and asbestos industries, for example. These triumphs provide us with the key to subordinating corporatism to the supremacy of the people’s sovereignty (remember “we the people” is in our Constitution’s preamble, not “we the corporations” which are never mentioned once). These successes (civil, consumer, environmental, and worker rights) improved our society because laws got through Congress. If you want to make big companies servants of the people, it usually has to go through a super-majority of only 535 people who are members of Congress and want your votes, which companies do not have – at least not yet.

It’s your Congress, People! Reclaim it from the corporatists. It’s in your hands. Lives, healthcare, livelihoods, your descendants and the planet will be so much better off if you spend a fraction of the time you spend on your hobbies holding your two Senators and Representatives accountable to the people first.

It’s Easier than You Think (See, Breaking Through Power: https://nader.org/books/breaking-through-power/).

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Reporters Do a Better Job When They Do NOT Ignore Civic Groups

By Ralph Nader

Connecting the civic community with the mainstream media is no minor endeavor. Historically, this connection has been essential to a functioning democracy. The citizenry is the taproot of democracy and a key source for journalists’ declared function of informing the people.

My efforts on this front have been threefold. First, I wrote about 30 national citizen organizations last October documenting how, since the Sixties and Seventies, the media has been marginalizing the civic community on a variety of matters and especially of reforming the political economy.

Where once journalists would cover civic group reports, litigation, testimony, and top civic leaders for their expertise, the coverage now is woefully inadequate. Civic leaders do not like to publicly acknowledge this exclusion for it makes them look powerless vis-à-vis the political and commercial interests they have to confront and reform. So, my urgings for them to pay intense attention to the years of near blackout fell on cautiously silent ears.

Next, recognizing how hard it is, in the modern Internet age, to reach reporters to provide them with scoops, leads, corrections, and amplifications of their articles and features, I started the Reporter’s Alert (See, https://reportersalert.org/). The idea was if you can’t reach reporters and editors, as once was the case, then maybe you present story suggestions in one place, and they’ll check in from time to time. There are now six lists of suggestions on the site. There are some modest indications that the suggestions are being viewed by some reporters and editors.

A third approach occurred to me while reading recent newspapers. By its own objectives and standards, the media is well advised to call these experienced civic leaders to better the reporting they are doing.

Here are some varied examples of the importance of such calls.

1. Day after day the press is reporting on the Biden infrastructure proposals all totaling $4 trillion, broken down into $2.3 trillion for public works and the rest toward “human infrastructure” for adults and children. There are ongoing negotiations between the White House and the GOP in Congress that involve lower dollar figures. Yet, in the New York Times and the Washington Post, reporters allow the impression that these are gigantic sums because they do not tell us that these are sums stretched over 8 to 10 years. So, divide them by eight or ten and they appear very modest and less susceptible to misunderstanding. From say $400 billion a year down to a little over $100 billion, depending on what gets through Congress, is really very little for a $25 trillion economy with serious deferred maintenance of our public services and family necessities. Apple alone just announced another $90 billion stock buyback. A new proposal to build a sea wall around Miami, due to rising sea levels, came in at $1 billion a mile. Reporters calling any number of citizen groups working on public investments would have avoided this daily omission.

2. Much reporting on HR1 dealing with overcoming state-driven voter restrictions has left out provisions adding new obstacles to third-party candidate ballot access. Both candidate and voter repression are tied together (more voices and choices) and bad for a competitive democracy. A call to Oliver Hall of the Center for Competitive Democracy would have revealed that unreported fact.

3. For years, reporters have had a far too limited range on trade policies, focusing on conventional trade barriers and too little on the way corporations created “corporate-managed trade” over so-called “free trade” both substantively (subordinating environment, consumer and labor rights to the imperatives of commerce) and procedurally creating a dictatorial process of secrecy and exclusion. Were they to have brought Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch into the discourse, they would have served their public far better. In recent years, reporters began to understand this accurate, precise information source and do call Ms. Wallach more often.

4. Judy Woodruff of PBS’s NewsHour has a penchant for interviewing reporters. For example, she interviews reporters covering tax issues, when her predecessors interviewed acknowledged tax experts like Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. The drop in quality shows reporters have to be more limited in what they say and they have far less historical context regarding Congress, the Treasury Department, and the IRS.

5. Sidney Wolfe of the Health Research Group and Dr. Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest used to be in the news all the time during the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, and into the very early 20th century. No more, nor are their expert colleagues. The paucity and superficiality of coverage of pharmaceutical issues (including the latest Biogen fiasco) and the failure of the FDA and USDA to regulate the food supply continues.

6. The mainstream media is finally stepping up its reporting about the need to investigate whether the Covid-19 pandemic started with a negligent leak from the Wuhan Institute. The media would have done well to contact Andy Kimbrell of the International Center for Technology Advancement, a seasoned litigator, to hear his cautious skepticism back in the spring of 2020 that the Covid may not have been from direct animal contact.

7. Coverage of the Boeing 737 MAX crashes has been unusually good, but could have been better and earlier, were the reporters on this beat to have contacted Paul Hudson, head of Flyers Rights (See, https://flyersrights.org/) and a member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee. Hudson has been covering the aviation safety scene for 32 years since he lost his daughter in the Pan Am 103 explosion/crash in Scotland.

8. Coverage of autonomous cars is and has been a media exercise in “gee whiz hoopla,” uncritically reporting the industry’s hype in hundreds of articles. Now as the New York Times has reported there are serious drawbacks to seeing autonomous cars (as distinguished from semi-autonomous systems) on the roads. (See, It Turns Out It’s a Long Road to Driverless Cars, New York Times May 25, 2021). Really? Calls to the Center for Auto Safety, former NHTSA Director Joan Claybrook, or the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety would have alerted reporters about these still unsolved technical problems years ago. This mis-telling was a serious disservice to readers.

9. Reporters covering political candidates and their agendas, almost never ask about candidates’ stands on corporate crime and corporate welfare. Most recently, this was the case with the Times’s Q and A with the candidates for mayor of New York City. New York is a hotbed of corporate crime waves that the Times reports on as if it is a separate topic from political contests.

10. Lawlessness in the executive branch under both Parties, with the worst under Donald Trump’s Justice Department, is rarely a reporter’s focus. We’ve documented continual serious presidential violations of federal statutes, international treaties, and illegal uses of executive orders. Almost none of our calls are returned. (nader.org).

The examples could go on and on. United Airlines’ publicity stunt the other day, announced orders for numerous supersonic airline passenger planes which no one is manufacturing. Reporters never asked about obvious, serious drawbacks pointed out in a concise letter to the editor in the Washington Post by an aerospace engineer, Antonio Elias.

The media would do well to recognize that just about every movement for a just society started with a small number of citizens, then more organized civic groups before the politicians joined the fight. Journalist’s report, as you did in the Sixties and Seventies, the legitimate voices of expert civic engagement, as you cover the plight of the people they’re striving to help and our society will improve.

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The Agony of Accessing Verizon: CEO Vestberg Should Play Customer for a Day

By Ralph Nader

Who hasn’t had difficulty just getting through the multi-layered, often automated call center of your telephone company? Never mind getting a solution to your problem in due time.

I’d like to share with you our experience with Verizon. We have a simple residential landline with no bells and whistles. We started getting calls every day that went “Ping, ping, ping, ping,” with no robocaller trying to sell anything. It began with a “ping” and ended some 90 seconds later if we didn’t hang up.

The other problem was that we were cut off in the middle of a conversation with a human being on a 1-800 line.

So, I embarked on the journey of getting answers from Verizon. It took about 90 minutes. As usual, if you ask sequential questions, you learn a lot despite the frustration.

I called Verizon and was put on hold. A person comes on and asks for my PIN number for “safeguarding my privacy.” I was told all calls are recorded. No PIN number was readily available. She said, “OK then,” she would have to call me back for verification. She called back and asked, “Are you migrating to fiber?” “No, we have a copper line.” I asked: “What’s this got to do with my two problems that I had described to you?” She said that her office could only handle complaints from copper lines where fiber optic was not available to the customer.

“Are you trying to push us into fiber optic?” I inquired, recalling friends who complained of such pressure tactics. She said something like fiber-optic provides better service at no extra cost. If I agreed, she could then send a “troubled ticket” to the repair station. Otherwise, she would have to send me over to the “Business Office.”

At the “Business Office,” a recording comes on saying that “due to the high volume of calls,” I’d have to wait 8 to 10 minutes to get a call back if I didn’t want to hold on. Ok, later a robot came on and asked for my “10-digit phone number.” Three times, I gave it and three times it was rejected.

Finally, “Michelle” came on, again asked for the PIN number, again had to call me back for “safeguarding your account.” She looked over our accounts and asked about moving to fiber optic. “It costs only $20 plus taxes,” she said, contradicting the previous Verizon person. She added, “if you don’t want to migrate to fiber, no problem, but why don’t you want to go fiber?” Again, I said we were satisfied with the copper line. Then she tried to address our problems by transferring me to “Tech Support,” because “she didn’t have the tools to fix it.”

Anticipating losing contact and having to start all over, I asked Michelle if she would stay on the line until another human being from Tech Support came on. She agreed. Then began a series of waiting periods because Michelle herself couldn’t get through. Music started playing and every three or so minutes, Michelle would come back on to reassure us that she was still trying. After a few of these holds with music, I asked her if she could record a flamenco for a change. Rare spontaneity – she laughed and said she wasn’t in charge of the choice of music.

Finally, she got through to a Tech Support staffer named “Andi.” Michelle stayed on the line while “Andi” was reviewing Michelle’s notes. I felt ever more sympathy for these Verizon employees after Michelle plaintively declared: “My goal today was to provide you with outstanding service.” She thanked me, waiting for my concurrence, mentioning she needed it “for my files.” The “performance evaluation” dragon, no doubt.

“Andi” confidently came on the phone. She says the problem with the beep could be a “network problem coming from Verizon” or could be “a wiring problem” down the street. It could be either a physical issue or a signaling matter. If the latter, she might be able to fix it from her computer. She asked me to wait some minutes for the results of the test. She returned to say that it doesn’t seem to be a physical problem. She’ll have “to escalate” to the “central office” for a “definite not temporary fix.” Meanwhile, she’ll keep trying to fix it herself, advising that the “central office” will call me once they do some tests. (For you readers, the direct tech support number, to save you time, is 1-800-922-0204).

So as not to lose contact (they don’t give their extension) and have to start all over, I asked her for my repair ticket number, which she gave me. Whew! She concluded by saying that a robot would come on, ask whether our line is “copper” or “fiber,” and then a human being comes on.

Two hours later, a man phones. He seems really experienced, speaks down to earth without jargon. He gives me a contrary “Tech Support” opinion. Namely, there’s nothing Verizon can do about the beeping calls. Millions of customers get these calls. It’s part of the robocall, spam calls, beeping calls assault. He gets them too. Been going on for years. Every attempted fix is circumvented by the outlaw telemarketers who keep doing this. But I noted, that’s not what “Andi” was telling me. What gives?

He responded by saying that Verizon has a “special group” that deals with automated calls, but neither they nor anyone else, have succeeded in developing software that can end this daily harassment of telephone customers. He agreed that putting the beeping phone down until it ends persuades the computer’s algorithms that you’re not a worthwhile call and lets you off – for a while.

As for being cut off in midst of a conversation on a 1-800 line, he suggested asking whether the person is using a cellphone or a cordless phone, to possibly find the cause.

With some prompting, he related that the structural problem is rooted in (1) reducing the needed number of employees, (2) less reliable outsourcing, and (3) top executives who are “so far removed” from the activities of their staff-customer relations. He added that not only is this robo nightmare making people not answer their phones, but that Verizon itself when responding to customer complaints can’t get through for the same reason. Quite an irony, I noted, describing “the old rotary phone days” when it was so much easier to get through to one another, including the phone company.

I concluded with the suggestion that Verizon’s CEO Hans Vestberg (Corporate Office: 908-559-2001) should spend a couple of days “playing customer” calling with a variety of complaints or questions and learn the agonies, if only in a simulated manner. He sighed, as I assured him that this is the kind of experience, we and many others will be demanding from this very highly paid CEO! A new horizon for Verizon’s boss.

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To the Media: Readers Need to Know More

By Ralph Nader
May 28, 2021

Reporters at major newspapers and magazines are hard to reach by telephone. Today it is increasingly difficult to converse with them about timely scoops, leads, gaps in coverage, and corrections to published articles.

We started an online webpage: Reporter’s Alert. From time to time, we use Reporter’s Alert to present suggestions for important reporting on topics that are either not covered or not covered thoroughly. Reporting that just nibbles on the periphery won’t attract much public attention or be noticed by decision makers. Here is the sixth installment of suggestions:

1. China is where the Covid-19 pandemic originated and where the first casualties occurred. After a few weeks of blunders, lockdowns, and rigid quarantines, the Chinese economy and society seemed to recover. China has three times the U.S. population, but claims its fatality toll is about one percent of the U.S. fatality toll. Assume this is heavily undercounted. Even so, observers in China report the economy is bustling. Workers are back on the job, stores are filled with shoppers, and in-person schooling and meetings have resumed. Yet, the western press has not really reported in granular detail the difference in Covid numbers between the two countries. Just saying China is a command society is too facile. We have much to learn from the Chinese and by doing so we can establish the basis for closer cooperation between our two countries to prevent the next pandemic, whether from animals or a laboratory leak.

2. Have any reporters explained to us why over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and thousands of police, with modern U.S. equipment and training, plus U.S. naval and air cover, are losing ground almost everywhere to 35,000 Taliban with light weaponry and no air, naval, or radar defense systems? Americans have paid a heavy price for this forever war. They and the Afghan people, who have endured intense suffering, deserve detailed explanations of why the Taliban is such a challenge for foreign armies and the government of Afghanistan. Reporters need to go beyond the throwaway phrase “it’s the corruption.” Air cargo loads of $100 bills flown to Kabul from Washington often facilitate corruption, but there is far more to this story.

3. Media, explain this paradox: The Israeli government knows every street, alley, and building in tiny Gaza. It has this enclave under the most intense technological surveillance of any human population in history. It tracks who lives, works, moves, and the goods they buy. It collects DNA samples by family name and has loads of spies and informants. The U.S.-made Israeli aircraft pinpoint, with precision missiles, militants sleeping on known floors of apartment buildings. Yet, the Israeli military cannot locate in a timely manner the places where the garage-built, crude, inaccurate rockets are made and fired. Experts have said Israeli missile defense technology can respond to rocket launch sites in three to five seconds. What explains this contradiction?

4. The miasma of U.S. foreign aid programs merits media sunlight, especially given the lack of congressional oversight. This is an area of endless discovery. Enormous discretionary power regarding foreign policy has been given to the White House by Congress over the decades. What loans are quietly converted to grants at the insistence of lobbyists for foreign interests? How much of the foreign aid is used for purchases from U.S. companies and how much transfer of sensitive or top-secret technology slips through export restrictions under this rubric of foreign aid? The last and only GAO study on U.S. foreign aid to Israel was in 1978 and it revealed the astonishing latitude of pro-Israeli government administrations to give Israel special treatment.

A recent article by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes that “U.S. law is clear: all countries receiving U.S. aid must meet human rights standards, and countries violating these standards are liable to be sanctioned and ineligible for U.S. funding…” But “when it comes to Israel, additional conditions do not apply and general human rights laws are almost never adhered to.” (See: Bringing Assistance to Israel in Line With Rights and U.S. Laws, May 12, 2021).

How many taxpayer dollars are going to fund unlawful activities in recipient countries? Whatever happened to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 1996 declaration before a joint session of Congress signaling the end of prosperous Israel’s need for U.S. aid programs to the standing ovation of the solons? How have foreign aid priorities helped despots and ignored areas abroad that have incubated local epidemics of new viruses and bacteria which could spread around the world?

5. The vast proportion of NASA’s $24.7 billion budget is outsourced to corporate contractors. Each year, NASA is shrinking from the agency it once was – now corporatizing entire space programs and their crews to outfits run by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and others. Soon it will so diminish its in-house technical capacity that it will largely become a dispensing and consulting agency with Congress listening to the “private” space industry’s commands and preferences. This is certainly worth a look-see.

6. Our country is increasingly being overrun by invasive species. Numerous reports have been written about what is happening in the Everglades and foreign beetles and other insects destroying billions of trees and Asian Carp in the Mississippi River. Southern ant colonies, killer bees, etc. send investigative alarms. How weak and underfunded are the sentinel agencies such as U.S. Customs and other agencies looking out for such invasions that already cost our economy tens of billions of dollars a year?

7. Getting through by telephone to your members of Congress, government agencies – local, state, and federal, and large corporations that boast about their customer service is beyond frustrating. It is a calculated blockade. Call a Congressional office and you get voicemail with options that go nowhere. This was the case even before Covid-19 gave them an excuse. As far as responding to substantive letters, forget it.

Voicemail, instead of a receptionist operator, used to be a no-no a few years ago. At the budget-depleted IRS and most government agencies, it is so difficult to find a human being that many people tell me they don’t even try anymore.

Once upon a time you could, at least, get a secretary to the CEO or President of large corporations. Try it now.

As reporters, you don’t experience the frustration because as media you get through, though you may not like the reply. Getting through to public officials is exercising our constitutional right to petition our government. This problem is worse than before the internet age. An email is no substitute for person-to-person exchanges on the spot. I’ve suggested this story, with examples to numerous editors and reporters who invariably say it’s a great idea and then drift away. In fact, I’m making this encore proposal because the first time in this series it was suggested it produced no takers. Shutting out the people has another name in many foreign countries, doesn’t it?

8. Why are the majority of U.S. $100 bills circulating in foreign countries and not in America? How successful are North Korean and other counterfeiters in manufacturing them? Just how much is the export of $100 bills fulfilling official government policies or facilitating corporate crime. There used to be a $10,000 and $1000 bill which were discontinued in 1969 to fight undetected criminal transactions. Is cryptocurrency becoming the means of replacing expanding counterfeiting? What are the operating government counterstrategies?

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Biden: End Your Co-Belligerent Backing of Israeli War Crimes

By Ralph Nader
May 21, 2021

As Senator, Vice President, and now President, your self-promoted/displayed empathy has a problem. You can’t seem to connect the Israeli military powerhouse’s occupation to the oppression and destruction of innocent Palestinian civilians, illegal seizure of Palestinian land/water, and daily violations of U.S. and international law. Israel’s military is deliberately bombing these families, the offices of American media, international medical facilities, and many local hospitals and water and electricity facilities with fighter jets and missiles made in America.

To know about what is happening daily, you do not need to rely on the evidence compiled by the U.S. mainstream media or foreign reporters on the ground in Gaza or your own intelligence agencies, just take it from the Israeli media and Israelis themselves.

Stop repeatedly mumbling the usual mantra to escape your presidential responsibilities for the military weaponry and political cover, including the U.S. Veto at the U.N. By your failure to act you have backed this Israeli-initiated aggression, as you have invariably favored prior illegal Israeli military attacks against U.S. ally Lebanon, and Syria and Iran in recent decades.

Although the Netanyahu regime prohibits Israeli journalists from entering Gaza or the West Bank to report reality, enough of the Israeli media carries the horrific devastation in Gaza with casualties and critical property destruction hundreds of times greater than that inflicted by the primitive Hamas rockets, 90% of which are shot down by the U.S.-funded “iron dome” anti-missile systems. The rest, with very few random exceptions, fall onto the desert floor, sometimes back into Gaza.

Israel needs these feeble, homemade rockets as the pretext for its massively greater attacks again and again against the civilian population during the past fifteen years. How else can it engage in such slaughter of entire extended families asleep in their crowded homes, destruction of schools, health clinics, media offices – against what the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has called a wholly defenseless, captive people? Israel is just defending itself, you keep saying, ignoring the imperial racist premise in that statement.

As Representative Cori Bush (D-MO) declared this week: “These atrocities are being funded by billions of our own American tax dollars while communities like mine in St. Louis are hurting and are in need of life-affirming investment here at home.”

The expanding Jewish Voice for Peace, whose views represent a larger polling of American Jews than does AIPAC, joined over 70 U.S. advocacy groups in support of a Congressional resolution opposing your latest $735 million weapons shipment to Israel. You know federal law prohibits U.S. weapons delivered to a foreign country from being used for offensive purposes – a law continually and openly violated by Israel with impunity.

Having such precision instruments of war, and because it has Gaza under the strictest, most intrusive surveillance of any encircled, besieged territory in history, Israeli destruction of critical civilian infrastructure – electricity, water, sewage, and medical facilities – can be considered deliberate. The Israeli military knows about every street, home, apartment building, business, and government site, including who moves inside this tiny enclave. They have embedded spies, informants, a 24/7 electronic watch, and even updated Palestinian DNA samples. Indeed, Israeli government spokespersons boast about giving warnings to the occupants of some of the targets, such as those in the 14-story building housing AP, Al Jazeera, many residential apartments, and doctors’ offices, before turning it into rubble. They know exactly what they are striking – warnings or no warnings. So far, half of the fatalities are children, women, and those sick from the raging, Covid-19 pandemic, who have little or no access to vaccines.

You have two dozen Democratic Senators demanding a ceasefire and you still will not come out strongly for a transition toward a vigorous peace process leading to your stated two-state solution. You have none of President Eisenhower’s steadfastness who in 1956 declared a firm stop to the aggressive Israeli, French, and British bombing of Suez in Egypt.

You know full well what started this latest round of hostilities. Read this excerpt from the New York Times:

“…it was the outgrowth of years of blockades and restrictions in Gaza, decades of occupation in the West Bank, and decades more of discrimination against Arabs within the state of Israel, said Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Parliament and former chairman of the World Zionist Organization. ‘All the enriched uranium was already in place,’ he said. ‘But you needed a trigger. And the trigger was the Aqsa Mosque.’”

Mr. Burg was referring to the Israeli police invasion of the 8th century Aqsa Mosque – Islam’s third holiest site – during Ramadan, tear gassing and wounding over 300 praying faithful with stun grenades and rubber bullets. Together with Israeli street gangs in East Jerusalem and the intensifying displacement of Palestinian families there, the provocations proved to be the tipping point for panicked Palestinians.

You know this and much more from your confidential briefings. Still, you are hesitating. You are intimately aware of why Prime Minister Netanyahu timed and choreographed these bloody, brutal assaults. It is to position himself more successfully in forming a governing coalition of extremists to avoid a fifth election and ward off an ongoing prosecution for corruption by Israeli law enforcers. He provoked, for his political ambitions, the terrifying of the country he leads.

I am attaching an open letter I sent to President Obama on December 19, 2016, asking him to adopt Jimmy Carter’s urgent plea for you to take “the vital step – to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve full United Nations membership.” As you know, Mr. Carter negotiated the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. He referenced President Obama’s support of the long-standing United Nations Resolution 242, which called for a “complete freeze on settlement expansion on Palestinian territory that is illegal under international law.” In 2011, President Obama also made clear that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines” as two states.

In dire contrast, your Administration has been signaling a diplomatic withdrawal from this conflict to focus on China and East Asia. You’d be well advised to generate some residual fortitude, and empathy, and uphold the legal responsibility to reverse your total support for whatever Israel has done since you began your Senate career in 1973.

Enclosed: An Open Letter to President Obama: Decision Time For Israeli-Palestinian Peace – December 19, 2016.

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NPR at 50 – Straying from Its Civic Mission?

By Ralph Nader
May 14, 2021

This month is the 50th anniversary of National Public Radio (NPR). Knowing about my work back then with other advocates, to persuade Congress to pass legislation creating NPR and PBS, (which was opposed by most of the commercial radio/TV industry), a friend asked what I think of NPR now.

A few observations, drawn from listening to NPR largely over the WAMC station in Albany, New York during a Covid-19 year, are in order.

1. I find the features and the collaboration with other investigative groups, such as Pro Publica, very enlightening. One piece about Amazon’s warehouses was especially memorable. Moreover, Scott Simon and David Brancaccio are so capable as to be considered under-challenged.

2. NPR’s top-of-the-hour news amounts to little more than three minutes. It is repetitious and basically a minor headline service. This mimicking of commercial network radio news is not what we envisioned 50 years ago. The prolonged 6:15 pm evening weather forecasts on WAMC are often longer than the evening news briefs at 6:00 pm.

3. There is just too much weather forecasting throughout the day. On WAMC, around mid-day, they’ll tell you about the weather in California and the mountain states before you hear the forecast for the local listening region. They even promote the weather forecasts. So obsessed are they that they repeat the forecast over the four adjoining regions they service preceded by an overall forecast. Think of the additional local news that could be reported instead.

4. The public radio/TV legislation from Congress did not envision advertisements. Public funding, audience, and foundation donations were seen as the way to reduce commercial pressure over this public institution, inspired in part by the more extensive BBC and CBC in the UK and Canada.

5. What started as a “just a little bit of commercial sponsorship,” when Congress got tight some years ago, has now gone wild. Do we really need to be reminded that “support for this station (or for NPR) comes from x, y, z contributors,” about thirty times an hour? Mind-numbing, hour after hour! NPR makes sure to identify corporate sponsorship such as Facebook or Amazon when they are doing reports affecting these companies. But top NPR management defiantly refuses to monitor the corporate character or respect for the law of these and other companies before they give them NPR’s credibility.

The Corporate Crime Reporter provided NPR management with a list of law violations, such as those by Raymond James, an NPR “sponsor” pursuant to asking about any of NPR’s Ad monitoring. NPR boss, the usually incommunicado John Lansing, essentially blew off the inquiry, saying there is no need for a filter to protect the audience.

6. A key reason for Congress creating NPR was to have its affiliates fill local news gaps, largely neglected by the commercial stations. WAMC has spent good money hiring local reporters in upstate eastern New York, western Massachusetts, and Vermont who know and stay on the beat. But national NPR has spent far too much time on entertainment subjects and interviews and not enough time on civic events, reports, and movements, aside from issues of race, gender, and police violence being covered by the mainstream media. Even NPR’s daily birthday announcement almost always features entertainment or professional sports figures. National civic, labor or educational leaders are scarcely noted.

7. More civic news suffers not for lack of time. NPR and affiliates offer plenty of hours for music. Forget about Saturday and Sunday evenings. At some NPR affiliates, 6:00 pm on weekends is sign-off time in favor of entertainment time.

8. NPR often describes the personal plight of people in poverty or suffering from other deprivations, but rarely probes the structural causes or the role of concentrated corporate power in creating the problems. Increasingly, corporate power is shaping an evermore dominant corporate state that allows mercantile values to seriously weaken the social fabric and moral norms of our society.

Not many NPR reporters use words like “corporate crime,” “corporate welfare,” or cover the corporate capturing of agencies, the vast unaudited military budget, or many other realms of American life controlled by “corporatism.” But then what can one expect when they ignore credible civic groups, who have timely evidence of such domination, and keep on interviewing one another inserting four-second sound bites to academics and consulting firms?

NPR’s practice during election periods of having the anchors interview its reporters, who are often youngish, inexperienced, and bland, instead of skilled, fact-reliable outsiders is disappointing. NPR’s election postmortems too often are superficial and lack rigor.

Just recently, an NPR report on the most recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline continued its repeated omission of how victims of hackers actually pay in ransom or why such payments can’t be traced. And NPR’s reporting on why our secretive government seems helpless in protecting towns, cities, hospitals, and others who have been hit by ransomware attacks is anemic.

9. Last month to the dismay of some NPR journalists, there was no national obituary on Ramsey Clark, former Attorney General and early civil rights and human rights leader. NPR did devote five minutes remembering a Rockstar.

10. NPR’s blunders are well-known to local affiliates. WAMC, a mid-size station, pays NPR a million dollars a year. But on January 6, 2021, NPR Washington was AWOL – over an hour late in feeding its affiliates reports on the insurrection, which started getting reported by CNN around 2:00 pm. WAMC reporters were furious, and I was told this wasn’t the first time NPR messed up.

There is an omnipresent air of smugness about NPR, such as their constant display of confident ignorance on Congress’ constitutional authority, and Presidential/Executive Branch lawlessness. This shortcoming was especially troubling during Trump’s impeachments. Where are you, Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg, to give tutorials to your younger colleagues who need to be more sensitive to these issues and to their in-house ageism over the years?

11. Then there are the daily irritations. The interlude music is often inappropriate and too long. Marketplace at night with hyper-Jumping Jack, Kai Ryssdal has music as noisy background while he is giving the brief stock market numbers.

Unlike its commercial competition, NPR and PBS’s News Hour start their news programs with ads, something commercial NBC, CBS, and ABC do not do. NPR has puzzles during prime-time evening news time, this itself is a puzzling fillip.

NPR has long had a Public Editor on staff. They almost always respond to listeners’ substantive complaints by saying these are not matters within their jurisdiction. The new Public Editor is Kelly McBride. She insisted on not being on staff but instead on contract from St. Petersburg, Florida. This is the link for the public editor: (https://help.npr.org/contact/s/contact?request=Ask-the-Public-Editor-about-ethics) to protect her independence. After a few tries, she actually returned my calls and reassured me that she is looking out for the listener’s best interest. We’ll see.

It would be good if listener feedback to NPR was made easier and more regularly structured. WAMC has lots of listener feedback on issues chosen daily by its Roundtable and other interview shows. But as one might expect some questions, as about top management salaries and bad advertisers lunching off WAMC’s credibility, seem out of bounds.

I have started a Reporter’s Alert suggesting many kinds of stories that are not covered or only nibbled at by the media. You can see them aggregate at https://reportersalert.org/ and of course, this resource is available for perusal by NPR’s editors and reporters.

There is so much more to learn about NPR. Since NPR gives plenty of time to conservative politicians, an educational bipartisan Congressional hearing and report would be a good way to celebrate the 50th anniversary. It’s just not productive to give NPR a pass simply by comparing it to the rancid competition spoiling our public airwaves for free.

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Reporter’s Alert: Part V

By Ralph Nader
May 7, 2021

Reporters at major newspapers and magazines are hard to reach by telephone. Today it is increasingly hard to converse with them about timely scoops, leads, gaps in coverage, and corrections to published articles.

We started an online webpage: Reporter’s Alert. From time to time, we will use Reporter’s Alert to present suggestions for important reporting on topics that are either not covered or not covered thoroughly. Reporting that just nibbles on the periphery won’t attract much public attention or be noticed by decision-makers. Here is the fifth installment of suggestions:

1. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, has just reported staggering quarterly earnings. This achievement, no doubt assisted by policies of the Federal Reserve, makes the following statement by him on January 21, 2021, a wonderful opportunity for reportorial follow up:

“I’ve been to a lot of meetings with presidents and prime ministers and senators and congressmen, and the selfishness and parochialism with the business folks is just absolutely outrageous.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/business/dealbook/trump-globalism.html)

What did Mr. Dimon mean by such a judgment of his peers in the business world? He is known to be outspoken. There might be a provocative story should he choose to elaborate. But first, he has to be asked.

2. The scrutiny of Internet advertising is much less than the attention formally given to print advertising before the Internet. The major trade journal, Advertising Age, led by the legendary columnist, Stanley Cohen, was often very critical of the advertising industry. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) even required, at one time, specific advertising claims to have substantiation filed with the agency. Today, the giant’s Google, Facebook, and other masters of the Internet rely heavily on ad revenues, their Achilles Heel. How effective are these ads? Is their fine-tuned targeting based on privacy invasions? What is Google et al. doing in their backrooms?

3. Speaking of corruption, what safeguards are being placed over the trillions of dollars streaming into all corners of the country from Washington legislation? In the $31 billion proposed for the reservations of the First Nations, there is also $5 million allocated to oversee disbursements. What is being done to catch and punish any waste, fraud, and abuse on what is spent inside and outside the US? Wherever there are government contracts, grants, and loans, there must be consistent media digging and reporting.

4. Billions of dollars of imported foods are coming to the United States labeled as “organic.” How is this claim being verified? What does the U.S.D.A. do to assure its labels are truthful? Any inspectors? What evasions have been uncovered? The temptation to sell the organic label but not the real organic fruits, vegetables, and other foodstuffs are everywhere. Are any of the major environmental or consumer groups (Greenpeace, NRDC, Friends of the Earth, Consumer Reports) monitoring this situation? Is the Customs Bureau doing anything?

5. It is increasingly difficult, especially in an Internet Age, to quit your vendor. Some of these obstacles are due to complexities in the relationship. For example, compare banks today with banks in the 1960s. But much of this lock-in is deliberate – sometimes with penalties for leaving – requiring consumers to go through hoops. Try getting out of your Amazon Prime “Membership.” See how leaving Amazon compares to your one-click purchases from Mr. Jeff Bezos. Moving from brokerage and credit card firms is needlessly bureaucratic – after one spends hours trying to get through to the right persons (forget about one-stop quitting in an era of much-touted one-stop shopping).

Then there are the “dark moments,” where corporate coercion sells you stuff you didn’t ask for or know about. There are also vendor tricks for upgrading your sales category. This is a controlling mechanism by vendors which also dilutes the effects of competition – a kind of barrier to the mobile choice of vendors. There is much to investigate here that is sometimes rooted in the pits of the omnipresent fine print contracts.

6. Just who are those state legislators in the GOP brazenly harassing certain categories of voters? How dare they do such a thing in plain sight – after their right-wing corporate attorneys do the devious drafting of the bills? Creating crazy hurdles to block voters (such as difficult IDs, requiring notarized signatures, and many more obstacles reported often in the media) is over-regulating, harassing, intimidating, and purging voters. So too are bills in Florida and Texas criminalizing or entrapping free speech street protests.

Profile these incinerators of democracy, these closeted bigots, and venomous beasts of prey who target the most vulnerable and discriminated against wannabe voters. Do specific state laws provide criminal penalties for officials implementing these shredders of voting rights? If not, why not? Are private remedies too onerous or non-existent? These abuses should get at least as much opprobrium, censorship, and demands for resignation as “no-touch” sexual harassment receives.

7. During meetings or telephone conversations with newspaper editors, I urge them to do random surveys of how difficult it is for ordinary citizens to simply get through to their government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. Editors immediately praise the suggestion and then do nothing.

Many zillions of hours are wasted waiting on the phone for government officials (e.g., the budget-strapped IRS). But apart from any budget excuses, for many agencies, avoiding calls or not responding to callers has become part of the culture at many government departments. Some agencies simply leave their phones off the hook for hours at a time. This occurred before the Covid-19 pandemic. Reporters may not experience this distress because they can get through more often, though they may not like the nature of the response non-response. Media surveys should be conducted by “ordinary people” with ordinary questions, for starters.

Getting through to corporations and their so-called “customer service” departments can offer similar hurdles. Telephone, insurance, and utility companies, for instance, all avoid talking to their customers. Emails are also easily dismissed and, anyhow, emails are not like two-way telephone conversations.

Hope all the above and the prior four Reporter’s Alert lists help stimulate some reporting on these important topics.

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