Reporters’ Alert: Launching a New Website Part II

By Ralph Nader

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 just 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 second installment of suggestions:

1. In recent years we have read about massive hacking of major databases at major retail chains (Target etc.), the federal civil service, national security agencies, credit card companies, and the list goes on. Tens of millions of people have had their personal files invaded by these mostly unknown remote hackers. These reports are accompanied by grave warnings of forthcoming untold damage to privacy, proprietary business information, workplace labor information, and secret government databases.

Yet, with the passage of time, we are not informed about what, if any, grave consequences materialized, even with the warnings about many forthcoming identity thefts. How about some follow-ups to these announcements of big hacking?

2. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were knowledgeable estimates that, at the very least, some 5000 people on average died in U.S. hospitals every week due to “preventable problems” in these institutions. Not included in this Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine peer-reviewed study (2016) were the preventable casualties from clinics and doctors’ offices. When the Johns Hopkins report came out, it was a one-day story, (not on the front page), in The Washington Post and The New York Times. There was neither follow up from the media nor from Congressional or state legislative bodies. Medical Associations, such as the AMA, scarcely blinked. There were some resolutions encouraging staff to wash their hands to reduce infections. Some hospitals emphasized this simple measure. Otherwise, 250,000 fatalities a year – a conservative figure by the authors – was relegated to “old news,” rather than opening all kinds of media-driven doors.

3. If you asked a reporter or editor: “Who owns the bulk of the wealth in America?” Chances are the response would be the top “ten percent.” A more specific response might be that a dozen of the richest Americans own more wealth than the combined wealth of the bottom 50% of American people. The subject is private. What if the question was “Who owns the most wealth of all kinds – private and public?” The answer would be the people. They own trillions of dollars in pension, mutual funds, and personal savings. They own the enormous “commons,” the public lands (one-third of America, not counting offshore), the public airwaves, and should own the intellectual property created by huge R&D grants from the federal government to build most of the newer industries, and so on.

Why should the reality that corporations control most of what people own, either directly or indirectly through indentured governments, take away from the deeper reality that ownership of, by, and for the people gets so little attention and therefore little deliberation about what we can do to restore control to the people of what they own? What might result from this overdue merger of ownership with control in a democratic society?

4. The largest single discretionary spending budget in the federal government is that of the Department of Defense. Yet, the Pentagon has gotten away with violating federal law. The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires all government departments and agencies to provide Congress−the Government Accountability Office (GAO)−with auditable data. Auditors said the DOD FY2018 auditors could not express an opinion on the financial statements because the financial information was not sufficiently reliable. Given all the GAO and DOD audits of waste, fraud, and abuse in DOD’s contracting history, defying Congress and the law here should be a matter of continual media reporting. The DOD budget accounts for more than half the operating budget of the U.S. government. Secretaries of Defense always promise to produce audits, but outside of a costly audit of the Marine budget one year, promises have not been kept.

5. Here’s one gigantic story in plain sight afflicting many millions of elderly people seduced into the Medicare [Dis]advantage plan. This corporatization of Medicare by giant health insurance companies keeps getting bigger every year. Now about 40% of Medicare beneficiaries, aided and abetted by both Parties in Congress and exploited by AARP, and some labor unions (SEIU) automatically enroll their retirees without first giving them a choice to go with traditional Medicare. As one knowledgeable physician declared about the glossily promoted deception of Medicare Advantage, “It’s not what you pay, it’s what you get.” Not to mention we are subsidizing Medicare [Dis]advantage plans at the expense of taxpayers and traditional Medicare beneficiaries. Trapdoors are pervasive in Medicare [Dis]advantage plans – starting with narrow networks and hassling when people get sick, prior authorization hurdles, and obstacles to returning to traditional Medicare. Deceptive promotions and advertisements go unrebutted by the FTC, progressive members of Congress, AARP, and the media that carry deceptive Medicare [Dis]advantage ads. This erosion of traditional Medicare provides Aetna and UnitedHealthcare with windfall profits. See Dr. John Geyman’s books (http://www.johngeymanmd.org/). See Dr. Don McCanne’s critique on the PNHP website and Diane Archer’s recent column: The Ghost of the Trump Administration Is Haunting Medicare.

6. Congress, busy increasingly over recent decades in abdicating its constitutional powers to the Presidency and Executive Branch, has created an impressive record of government by waivers. Congress tells the Executive what it shall do, then inserts “waiver” rights without standards. This lets the White House get away with unbridled power to escape the legislative intent of statutes. (Trump really exploited these exits).

Waivers are declared in the thousands every year – waivers from tariffs, waivers from arms sales, waivers from reports, from varieties of law enforcement actions, and so forth. Waivers create new lobbying businesses and invite corruption, favoritism, and the privileges of the big boys over the little guys. For example, in 2020, Apple got a tariff waiver from the US Trade Representative on paying a 7.5 percent duty on Apple Smart Watches imported from China. A key to abuses here is the absence of adequate boundaries (standards) or oversight by Congress.

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Perfidy Meets Putty – Congressional Democrats Betray Voters

By Ralph Nader

Do you remember the promises made by the Democratic Party’s presidential and Congressional candidates on universal health insurance? You can forget their pledges and somber convictions now that your votes put the Democrats in charge of the House and the Senate. The Democrats’ leaders are abandoning their promises and retreating into a cowardly corporatist future.

Here is the present scene. Leading Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have decided to spend tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize the giant health insurance companies like Aetna and United Healthcare to “cover recently laid-off workers and those who purchase their own coverage,” as The New York Times reported. There are no price restraints on the gouging insurance premiums or loophole-ridden policies. That is why giant corporate socialist insurers love the “American Rescue Plan,” which gives them socialist cash on the barrelhead. The law lets insurers decide how and whether they pay healthcare bills with co-pays, deductibles, or grant waivers. All these anti-consumer details are buried in the endless and inscrutable fine print.

Whatever happened to the Democrats’ (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pramila Jayapal, etc.) demand for single-payer – everybody in, nobody out – with free choice of doctors and hospitals instead of the existing cruel, and profiteering industry for which enough is never enough? Senator Sanders often mentioned a Yale study, published on February 15, 2020, that found:

Although health care expenditure per capita is higher in the USA than in any other country, more than 37 million Americans do not have health insurance, and 41 million more have inadequate access to care. Efforts are ongoing to repeal the Affordable Care Act which would exacerbate health-care inequities. By contrast, a universal system, such as that proposed in the Medicare for All Act, has the potential to transform the availability and efficiency of American health-care services. Taking into account both the costs of coverage expansion and the savings that would be achieved through the Medicare for All Act, we calculate that a single-payer, universal health-care system is likely to lead to a 13% savings in national health-care expenditure, equivalent to more than $450 billion annually….” (See the study: Improving the Prognosis of Health Care in the USA, February 15, 2020).

Well, House Speaker Pelosi is discouraging House Democrats from supporting Representative Pramila Jayapal’s H.R. 1384, the present gold standard for single-payer. News reports indicate that Representative Jayapal (D-WA) and Representative. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) will reintroduce their Medicare for All bill next week. Speaker Pelosi is telling Democrats in the House to focus instead on the modest expansion of Obamacare with its corporate welfare, utter complexity and seriously inadequate coverage. Almost eighty million Americans are presently uninsured or underinsured – a level that will not be significantly reduced for deprived workers by tweaking Obamacare during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A modified Obamacare, with no price ceilings, will hardly reduce the tens of thousands of American deaths every year because people cannot afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time to prevent fatalities. The Yale study also found that: “ensuring health-care access for all Americans would save more than 68,000 lives and 1.73 million life-years every year compared with the status quo.” Tweaking Obamacare does little to stem the relentless surge in healthcare prices and profits in our country, which is unique for not placing billing ceilings on medical procedures and drugs. This “get whatever you can” behavior by the vendors is so uncontrolled that healthcare billing fraud and abuse is costing people one billion dollars A DAY! Malcolm Sparrow, who is an applied mathematician at Harvard, estimates medical billing fraud amounts to at least ten percent of all healthcare expenses each year.

Obamacare does nothing to limit the perverse incentives of a fee-for-service system that includes unnecessary operations, over-diagnosis, and over-prescribing all of which increase the risks of preventable casualties. A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine peer-reviewed study in 2016 estimates that close to 5000 lives are lost weekly due to such “preventable problems” just in hospitals (see: Study Suggests Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S., May 3, 2016).

It gets worse. Year after year, the corporate Democrats, along with the Republicans, are facilitating expanding corporate takeovers of Medicare and Medicaid. The giant and widening attack on Medicare is called “Medicare Advantage,” which more accurately should be called “Medicare [Dis]advantage.” Our corporatized government, under both Parties, has been allowing deceptive promotional seductions of elderly people to take Medicare [Dis]advantage – now fully 40% of all Medicare beneficiaries – which is just a corporate insurance plan with multiple undisclosed tripwires.

Former President Trump worsened what he inherited from the Democrats in outsourcing Medicare. He launched something called “direct contracting” that, “could fully turn Medicare over to private health insurers” declared Diane Archer, former chair of Consumer Reports, in her article on March 8, 2021. Medicare Advantage premiums can be pricey. According to Kay Tillow, Executive Director of the Nurses Professional Organization, “The Medicare Advantage Plans are smiling all the way to the bank. In 2019 each Medicare Advantage beneficiary cost taxpayers $11,822 while those in original Medicare cost $10,813 each – that’s over $1,000 more and over 9% more per person for the for-profit insurers!”

Where is the outcry among Democratic politicians to reverse completely the corporate takeover of Medicare? Last year, many Democratic candidates pontificated about the need for single-payer health insurance, but now in Congress, we are scarcely hearing a peep about this vital human right. Their campaign rhetoric is just a distant memory. Tragically, it is now harder than ever for the elderly to get out of Medicare [Dis]advantage and go back to traditional Medicare.

Millions of elderly people are deceived by televised marketing lies and slick brochures. The hapless Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should investigate and end the deceptions. Congressional investigations and hearings are long overdue. As the authoritative Dr. Fred Hyde says about the so-called Medicare Advantage: “It’s not what you pay, it’s what you get.” That is, the corporate health plan works until they get sick, until “they want their doctor and their hospital.” Dr. Hyde was referring to the narrow networks where these companies park their beneficiaries.

More astonishing in this story of the rapacious corporate takeover of Medicare is that AARP promotes these flawed plans to their members, takes paid ads by big insurers in AARP publications, and derives income from this collaboration.

Imagine, over 50,000 SEIU retirees are automatically placed by their unions in these Medicare [Dis]advantage traps without first being allowed to choose traditional Medicare.

This whole sordid sabotage of the nineteen sixties Democrats’ dream, under President Lyndon Johnson, of taking the first step toward universal healthcare coverage for everyone, begs for more exposes. It begs for more clamor by the progressive Democrats in Congress who are strangely passive so far. I’m speaking of Representatives Jayapal, Raskin, Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and the receding “Squad,” as well as Senators Warren and Sanders. If we can’t expect these stalwarts to start the counterattack that will save lives, save trillions of dollars over the years, focus on prevention not just treatment, and diminish the anxiety, dread, and fear, that the citizens of Canada and other western nations do not experience because they are insured from birth on, who is left to defend the American people against the arrogant health insurance corporate barons?

I’m sending this column to these self-styled progressive Democrats along with a two-page specific critique of corporate Medicare from the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) website. PNHP’s membership counts over 15,000 pro-single-payer physicians. In a comment on the PNHP site, Don McCanne, M.D., says, “Remember, the mission of private, for-profit Medicare Advantage insurers is to make money, whereas the mission of our traditional Medicare program is to provide health care. We are supporting a program that deferentially caters to the private insurers and their interests when we should be supporting a program that is designed to take care of patients. Those being deceived by the private Medicare Advantage marketing materials really do not realize the bad deal they may be getting until they face the private insurer barriers to needed care. Silver Sneakers won’t take care of that.” (See: https://pnhp.org/news/russell-mokhiber-explains-why-private-medicare-advantage-plans-are-a-bad-deal/)

If you care about this issue, tell your Members of Congress it is time to pass Medicare for All represented by H.R. 1384.

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Reporters’ Alert: Launching a New Website

By Ralph Nader

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. Their voicemail messages often tell you how rarely they check their calls and urge reaching them by email. Good luck getting through the email clutter, filters, and voluminous commercial pitches, etc. More importantly, email exchanges can’t compare with the quick back and forth of personal exchanges on the phone.

There are some fine reporters, like David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, Charlie Savage of the New York Times, and David Brancaccio of NPR, who do pick up their phones or promptly return calls. When I asked Fahrenthold why he responds to calls he replied that that was how he gets stories. Years ago, that would have been such an obvious explanation, as not to be uttered.

Citizen groups constantly have ideas and industry documents and materials they have obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that they are willing to share with reporters. But they too often cannot easily get through to key reporters. Some stop trying. They wonder why today’s media mavens do not replicate the reporting of their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s. Their newsworthy reporting and editorializing helped mightily in the success with Congress by the emerging consumer, environmental, civil rights, and other reform groups. A better, safer country resulted from solid reporting on the drives for justice waged by citizen groups.

While hoping for more introspection by editors, TV producers, their reporters, and columnists, we are starting an online Reporters’ 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. Just nibbling on the periphery won’t attract public attention or be noticed by decision-makers. Here are the first entries:

Massive billing fraud by profiteering businesses rips off of tens of millions of consumers and public insurers such as Medicare and Medicaid. Leading expert, Professor Malcolm Sparrow at Harvard University estimates some $350 billion a year is drained away just in the health care industry. Sarah Kliff of the New York Times is exposing the gouging of a few people but has not addressed the systematic, aggregate treatment this little prosecuted mega heist requires.
The Federal Reserve’s boastful near-zero interest rate policy is taking tens of billions of dollars a year from tens of millions of small savers with money in savings banks and money markets because these funds earn virtually nothing. This saps consumer demand, endangers pension funds requiring a reasonable rate of return to be solvent, and increases the inequality of incomes. It also does nothing to induce lenders to lower staggering interest charges on credit cards, payday, auto, and student loans.

You read about the federal government imposing sanctions seemingly everywhere around the world, on governments, on government officials, on any one group we don’t like. Broad sanctions in Russia, Iran, Syria, and North Korea don’t bother the plutocrats and oligarchs in these countries. They do, however, impose horrific costs and deprivations on innocent civilians. Just what are these sanctions, who enforces them (private banks?), and who evades or corruptly profits from them? Are they all legally authorized by Congress and when are they illegal under international law? Do the sanctions include medicines, water disinfectants, medical devices, food, and the fuel used by millions of ordinary people? Without detailed reporting on sanctions, readers, viewers, and listeners get endless general repetitions about sanctions. Citizens in a democracy need more and better information.

In these Covid-19 times, the auto and health insurance companies are making out like bandits. Traffic is down; so are collisions. People are postponing going to doctors and hospitals for customary treatment due to the heavy load of the Covid-19 pandemic. Where are the refunds, rebates, and lower premiums? There were some refunds last spring by auto insurance companies, but state regulators have largely been passive. Billions of consumer dollars are at stake that could be helping people make ends meet.

How about some attention on the corporate law firms that figure out the ways for their big-business clients to escape the law, advance weak enforcement, get sweetheart settlements, and write those fine-print contracts that plague the marketplace? The special role of a Philadelphia corporate lawyer in undermining consumer rights deserves media coverage. Law firms that increase the number of helpless consumer serfs should stop all but the most clueless reporters from describing such lawyers and their law firms as “prestigious.”

Where in the world did the all-too-regular three-day a week Congress come from? Congressional “recesses” already provide our Senators and Representatives plenty of time to handle matters in their home states. Small wonder members of Congress don’t have time to hold many Congressional oversight hearings. They don’t work on Monday and Friday and spend too much time in between at nearby private offices, furiously dialing for campaign dollars. Members of Congress are well paid for full-time work. How about our elected officials start working as hard as the average American workers work back home? The solons of Congress need to spend more time working for the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

We hear that there are hundreds of billions of dollars from previous Covid-19 stimulus-relief laws that are still unspent. Break it down: What is unspent; why, and who should be receiving these monies? Also, how much is there to claw back from entities and persons who were not entitled to their checks in 2020?
Check out how Jeff Bezos has enriched Amazon’s Board of Directors. It’s mostly public information. The Directors’ wealth is stunning. How can this small Board be independent with self-gifts of stock options and other remunerations, benefits, and expenses? Reporters need to look for other similar examples of corporate board members controlled by management tricks and treats.

Public Citizen tracks the rise and fall of imposed corporate fines by the federal government. This is fresh information. Their reports are released with little coverage in a period marked by a corporate crime wave, puny prosecutorial and other enforcement budgets, and enabling politicians. According to experts, there are fines which are not paid at all.

More than random references to the deliberately starved IRS budget, mostly by Congressional Republicans aiding and abetting tax evasion over the past decade, are needed for the public’s right to know. The beleaguered IRS estimates that it cannot collect between $400 billion and $600 billion a year, over 80% of which is uncollected corporate taxes – real money that is not spent on people’s needs, infrastructure, or reducing deficits. What’s the problem with Democratic House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA)?

Visit reportersalert.org for future updates. There is much more to come. Members of the media should let us know what they think.

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Reporter Extraordinaire: The Pioneering Pathways of James Ridgeway

By Ralph Nader

James Ridgeway formally majored in English in the late 1950s, but he really majored in “Reporting” as the editor of the Daily Princetonian. Imagine what it took to put out a daily college newspaper. He had it all in spades and proved it over the next sixty years, with quiet energy and a boundless range of subjects.

I have never met a more honest, meticulous, humble, and productive reporter so persistent in getting the hidden story out to the people, whatever the odds. For Jim, reporting what wasn’t going to get reported was his way of seeking justice for the downtrodden, the powerless, and everyone else unfairly afflicted.

He broke many stories with his articles in the New Republic, the then formidable Village Voice, the Guardian, the Nation, and Mother Jones, among other publications that featured his terse, vivid prose.

The books he wrote also marked him as a reporter who saw stories, trends, and stirrings in the society earlier than his peers. Without pretense and ego, he had the key traits of the great reporters – unquenchable curiosity and the rare ability to “read the scene,” and maintain a driving empathy. He was immune from being jaded and calmly saw through phonies. He asked short questions to more readily evoke candor or expose evasion.

Ridgeway knew the tradition he was extending in his coverage of corruption, profiteering, and betrayals of duty in government and business. The shoulders he stood on were of the great muckrakers of the early 20th century – Ida Tarbell, Jacob Riis, George Seldes, Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and I.F. Stone.

I first met Ridgeway while scouring Washington D.C. in 1963-1964 to find someone who would take my findings on suppressed auto safety engineering and boldly report them. It was a tedious search. A visit to the Washington Post resulted in a twenty-minute presentation with a polite editor, who much later told me he thought I was just pitching for an inventor of some car safety device.

I finally walked into the house of the New Republic magazine and was ushered up the stairs to a young Ridgeway deep in thought at his typewriter. He looked at me, saying he just had a few minutes. Well, his curiosity resulted in a major article titled “Car Design and Public Safety.” The next year, he broke the fuller story titled “The Dick” about GM and its detectives tailing me, including to the U.S. Congress where I was soon to testify.

Ridgeway had the dual talent of digging into primary sources (Congressional, court transcripts, and internal memos) like I.F. Stone did and also hitting the ground where the affected people were ready to talk if anyone bothered to listen. And, like Lincoln Steffens, he knew that injustice and devastation undocumented would only fester.

That combination made his books prescient. They included The Politics of Ecology (1970), The Last Play: The Struggle to Monopolize the World’s Energy Resources (1973), and his early expose of corporate influence on the “University-industry” titled The Closed Corporation: American Universities in Crisis (1968). This book was an early alarm call for what has become deep and destructive corporatism inside higher education.

As corporatization of the mainstream press became more restrictive, Ridgeway went to the free culture of the Village Voice, where he worked for 20 years. When the Voice ownership changed, he started producing documentaries. His book and film, Blood in the Face, was on the far-right militias and other racist groups. The first edition, published in 1991, foreshadowed much of the turmoil we are seeing today. (A revised edition is due to release in June from Haymarket Books.)

During the past ten years, he and his colleagues resolved to focus on the cruelties of solitary confinement, giving voice to inmates so often arbitrarily imprisoned in a cage-size cell for 23 hours a day, trying to fight off going mad or suicide. Their stories were told in the book, Hell is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement (2016). He built an influential project with his longtime editor Jean Casella called Solitary Watch (see: solitarywatch.org), which received thousands of messages from prisoners and their desperate families. Jim would speak to these people on a regular basis, never exhausting either his empathy or his outrage. He maintained this level of engagement despite his painful ailments.

Add moral and physical courage to this dwindling species of truth-seekers no matter what. His was a generous spirit, sharing credit with others, and a patient mentor to his many interns and young journalists.

When Jim heard that we were organizing an intensive workshop to teach college students investigative reporting skills he offered to help. The 2008 event at Wesleyan University in Connecticut was also to memorialize/commemorate the luminous career of another courageous reporter, David Halberstam. Jim generously spent time with the students during and after the formal sessions. He also documented the entire week’s proceedings with his video team. Some of the country’s greatest journalists, including Sy Hersh, Jim Wooten, Roberta Baskin, Christopher Hedges, Amy Goodman, David Burnham, and others (see: www.journalismworkshop.org) journeyed to Middletown to train the next generation of reporters and to pay tribute to their late colleague. (I could see the respect they showed to Jim when they greeted him.) Jim sensed that they would be very candid and revealing about their own experiences and the restrictions imposed on reporters by government and business, which they and David and Jim experienced, but heroically resisted. As usual, his forecast was right on.

You can expand Jim’s legacy by supporting Solitary Watch (solitarywatch.org) either materially or with advocacy for expanding state reforms of this arbitrary, cruel, and unusual punishment in both corporate and public prisons.

His wife Pat and son David fervently wish that this work continues in their beloved Jim’s memory.

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Why Didn’t Speaker Pelosi Want Witnesses?

By Ralph Nader
February 19, 2021

On the morning of February 13, 2021, just before the Senate impeachment trial abruptly ended with Trump’s acquittal, Constitutional law specialist Bruce Fein and I sent the following plea to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

More than 240 years of heroic sacrifices by our forebearers to plant the seeds of a government of the people, by the people, for the people are not being furthered by your shortsighted eagerness for an abbreviated gravely historic second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. The trial has thus been shorn of “smoking gun” witnesses and full exposure of his daily wrecking ball against the Constitution rooted in Mr. Trump’s unprecedented, brazenly monarchical pronouncement on July 23, 2019, “Then I have Article 2, where I have the right to do anything I want as president.” Mr. Trump was as determined as his words.

He usurped the congressional power to tax and spend.

He defied hundreds of congressional subpoenas and demands for testimony or information to disable oversight and to substitute government secrecy for transparency.

He turned the White House into a crime scene with serial violations of the Hatch Act.

According to former national security advisor John Bolton, fortified by the Mueller Report, he made obstruction of justice “a way of life” at the White House.

He appointed principal officers of the United States without Senate confirmation in violation of the Appointments Clause.

He transgressed both the letter and spirit of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses.

He flouted his obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed by dismantling enforcement of environmental, safety, consumer protection, and labor laws.

January 6, 2021 was but the predictable culmination of Mr. Trump’s unalloyed contempt for the Constitution and rule of law. If Article 2 crowns the president with limitless power, then to incite the use of force and violence against the legislative branch of government to prevent the Vice President from counting state-certified electoral votes, falls squarely within his vast dictatorial domain.

We submit you will be committing a dereliction of constitutional duty if you do not immediately make the demand to subpoena witnesses in the pending second impeachment trial.

The subpoenas should be issued to at least the following: Donald Trump, Mike Pence, William Barr, John Bolton, Christopher Krebs, Brad Raffensperger, Jeffrey Rosen, Rudy Giuliani, Jeffrey Clark, and Pak Byung-Jin (B.J. Pak).

Your immediate call for witnesses critical to fortifying the impeachment evidence will be the definitive test of your resolve to convict Donald J. Trump and your understanding of the serious and gravity of the impeachment charges. A trial without key witnesses possessed of crucial incriminating testimony diminishes the seriousness of the proceedings and the huge stakes for the future of the American Republic.

The haunting question that history will raise will be this: Why didn’t Speaker Pelosi call the witnesses?

The Senate resumed its trial on Saturday, February 13th at 10:00 am. Soon, came the revelation of an exchange between Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (R-WA) on January 6th with House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA), regarding his telephone conversation with Donald Trump during the storming of Congress. What followed was a call for witnesses by a Senate vote of 55-45. Eureka! The window for Republican witnesses previously rejected by Democratic House Managers was reopened. There was another chance to overcome Speaker Pelosi’s desire for a quick trial without witnesses.

Then came another reversal pressed by President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Democratic leaders told the House managers to huddle privately with Trump’s defense lawyers to strike a deal. They did. They would place a mere statement from Rep. Beutler into the trial record and call no witnesses. The Republicans couldn’t have been more delighted, knowing that the Democratic leadership wanted the trial over that day before Congress went on a week-long vacation.

Before the deal, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) predicted on NPR that there would be a call for witnesses, requiring a deferral of the trial for two weeks. How mistaken he was about his Party’s defeatism and rejection of going forward with a full hand.

They could have added to their single impeachment Article of inciting an insurrection, two more Articles – intimidating Mike Pence and others plus Trump’s refusal to call back the attackers during their riot. Those three Articles would have made for a more powerful case against Trump’s defense attorneys, in the opinion of former federal judge Michael McConnell.

An even stronger impeachment and one deterring future wannabe Trumps was to pair Trump’s physical attack on the Capitol with Trump’s four-year institutional attack on the Congress with his constant usurpation of the legislative branch’s constitutional authority (some noted above).

For reasons yet to be divulged, the Democrats, as they did with the first impeachment of Trump, were unwilling to use the full evidence subpoena powers they possess. Trump can now run again, vitiating the rule of law and debasing our democratic institutions.

As Republican strategist Kevin Philips noted years ago, The Republicans go for the jugular while the Democrats go for the capillaries.

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The Struggle Inside Senator Mitch McConnell’s Brain

By Ralph Nader

Since 2015, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has ruled the Senate with an iron hand, describing himself as “the Guardian of Gridlock.” He was Senator “NO,” except for confirming over 200 mostly corporatist federal judges.

Now comes a new challenge for Mitch McConnell as he leads 49 other Republican Senators, twenty of whom are up for re-election in 2022. Earlier this month, McConnell broke with Trump publicly in a Senate speech holding the wannabe American Fuhrer responsible for the January 6th storming of the Congress. On that day, Trump had just spoken to a crowd on the Mall and incited his followers to rush the Capitol and “stop the steal.” In the aftermath of this insurrection, the Kentucky Senator said he was keeping an open mind about his vote during the coming impeachment trial of Trump.

Predictably, McConnell received a flood of criticism from the Trump supporters for daring to distance himself from the dangerous, unstable, Liar-in-Chief. Senate insurrectionists Senators Cruz and Hawley stood firm with Trump, even after the Trumpsters’ violent riot in their hallowed workplace.

Then came Senator Rand Paul, a crypto-libertarian opportunist and Trump toady (a scheming shadow of his father, ex-Rep. Ron Paul) to propose a vote on whether a president who is impeached while in office could be tried after his term was up. In a January 21, 2021 letter, an overwhelming number of liberal and conservative constitutional law experts said, “In sum, the Constitution’s text and structure, history, and precedent make clear that Congress’s impeachment power permits it to impeach, try, convict, and disqualify former officers, including former presidents.” (The full text of the letter is available online at Medium.Com) Not to do so, as Republican constitutional law specialist Bruce Fein said, “would fail to a set a precedent to deter future presidents from committing all kinds of impeachable offenses during the last days of their presidency and would undermine the additional sanction, by majority Senate vote, of banning Presidents who have committed ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ from ever running for federal office again.”

McConnell, reverting to form, voted with Rand Paul and all but five courageous Republicans for the nonsense assertion that the Constitution prohibits a trial of an impeached president after departure from office. Since it would take seventeen Republicans to join with fifty Democrats to convict Trump, the media pundits quickly prejudged the outcome as an acquittal.

Inside McConnell’s brain, however, the path ahead is not preordained. McConnell still insists, as one of 100 Senate jurors, he is keeping an open mind as he weighs the evidence at the open televised trial starting on Tuesday, February 9th in the Senate. This might be true. Allowing the Trumpian half of his brain to overpower his judgment and vote to acquit Dangerous Donald would spell disaster for the Republican Party (assuming the Democratic Party doesn’t go to sleep as it did after Obama’s win in 2008).

Here is what the “survival” part of McConnell’s mind may be thinking:

“My GOP is a minority Party. We’ve only won the popular vote for President once since 1988, having been saved by the Electoral College in 2000 and 2016. Our majorities in the House have been due to gerrymandering designed to produce safe Republican districts in key states. We can’t assume that the cowardly Democrats will continue to give us seats in the Senate that they should have won, apart from giving up contesting many seats altogether.”

“We should break completely with Trump and his uncontrollable, delusional, hardcore extremists dedicated to “civil war,” that the Department of Homeland Security has deemed the “leading domestic terrorist” threat. Conviction of Trump is the way forward. He wouldn’t be able to run again. We won’t be bullied, intimated, and lied about every day in order to push us toward these political militias and their crude, violent talk and actions by acquitting Trump. We can’t be the “law and order” Party if we don’t accept that “no one is above the law.”

“Also, the media would demand answers for out-of-control Republican outlaws and their Trumpian grip on state Republican Party committees. We will be so relentlessly distracted daily by Trumpian chaos and Trump’s 2024 candidacy that we won’t be able to reset the traditional stable GOP and advance our conservative agenda. Trump is causing us to lose our campaign contributions from frightened corporate CEOs who cannot tolerate daily political disruptions and overtly divisive rancor that rankles the workplace.”

“Some of our own legislators already are being investigated by the FBI for their involvement with these extremist groups.” (See the New York Times article: Republican Ties to Extremist Group Are Under Scrutiny).

“Furthermore, letting Trump go triumphantly into the electoral arena would increase the risk of internally splitting the Party with Trump either saying “his way” or creating a new “Patriot Party”. For many reasons, that would end our electoral chances for a generation. It will be worse than what FDR did to our Party.”

“I make these arguments to my Senate Republicans, having just been re-elected. The Senators up for election in 2022 are fearful of being primaried. They cannot stand the burst of hate mail they would receive.”

“To them, I would say: “relax, look at the huge margins most of you won by in 2016. You’re just too cozy and not used to a primary challenge, which should make you an even better campaigner. Besides, you’ll raise much more campaign money by standing tall against the tyrant who attacked America, who will turn on you at a tweet’s notice if you’re not 100% with him.”

“Given the super-safe seats – no one is going to beat Thune, Moran, Lankford, Kennedy, Crapo, Boozman, and Shelby in any primary. Besides, any ultra-extremist candidates who win primaries are sure to lose in the general election. That’s what happened in Delaware in 2000. The great majority of sane GOP voters know a suicide drive when they hear and see it.”

Such is the swirling mind of Mitch McConnell these days. With more incriminating evidence coming out about Trump’s attempted election coup, and the expected alarming under oath testimony at the Senate trial, the sheer political self-interest and regard for the GOP’s future should result in the Senate voting for conviction.

See: Wrecking America Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All by Mark Green and Ralph Nader, for a detailed exposé of Donald Trump, Liar-in-Chief

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New Auto Safety Report Demands Biden Strengthen Federal Programs Now

By Ralph Nader

Today the New York Times rediscovered its previous auto safety news beat that blossomed in the 1960s after my book, Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) caused an uproar in Detroit. Reporter Christopher Jensen told New York Times readers about a new report by a coalition of six automotive safety groups demanding that the new Biden Administration recharge the moribund, industry-dominated National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with strong leadership, adequate budget, and long-overdue, proven vehicle safety standards.

Since its creation by Congress in 1966, NHTSA has had some bright moments which made motor vehicles more crash-worthy and operationally safer, with less pollution and more fuel efficiency. Since then, over four million lives have been saved and many more injuries prevented. Property damage was diminished and insurance premiums were lower than they would have been had the “wild west” non-regulation, “style over safety” manias been allowed to continue. Laissez-faire runs amok.

In recent decades, however, under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, NHTSA was degraded into more of a sporadic, meek consultant to the auto giants, instead of a strong law enforcement agency. Its Administrators wafted sleepily in their few years at the helm and then retired to lucrative positions in the industry they failed to regulate.

To the extent that NHTSA did anything significant, it was due to a small band of gritty citizen safety advocates such as Joan Claybrook, the prime author of this report, Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety, and the insurance-industry-funded Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety led until recently by Jackie Gillan and now Cathy Chase. These advocates used the tools of litigation and lobbying to protect all of us, receiving little recognition for their unsung and life-saving endeavors.

Alas for the most part, at NHTSA, the routine was official inaction, not considered “news” by the mass media. Standards not issued nor strengthened, recalls not ordered, penalties not applied, data not compiled by make and model, safety research vehicles not funded and chronic secrecy by the auto companies and government not qualifying as “newsworthy.” A few high-profile auto defect scandals, often exposed when manufacturers were sued by tort lawyers, were widely reported, but the news coverage rarely included NHTSA’s inaction and institutional abandonment by Congress and the White House.

The revival of the federal government’s motor vehicle safety/pollution/fuel efficiency missions must start with Congressional hearings for updated, stronger laws, including criminal penalties for refusal by auto companies to recall defective or noncompliant vehicles, legislatively mandated safety advances, and more capacity and funding for NHTSA’s tiny budget, now far less than what is spent on military bands!

With distracted driving and ever more vehicles on more crowded highways, fatalities (including pedestrian casualties) started to increase pre-Covid.

The media, on its part, should not be distracted by the hype around a premature autonomous vehicle and super smart highways. Every day, people are dying in the old-fashioned ways that could be prevented by long-ready, better-handling and crash-protective vehicles.

Imagine the benefits of safer vehicles with far more environmentally benign engines and adequate funding for cost-effective public investment in new forms of public transit and upgrading existing mass transit. Getting around on the ground should include many diverse forms of arriving at one’s destination in a timely, safe, and environmentally preferable manner.

The Claybrook report titled, Safer Vehicles and Highways: 4.2 million U.S. Lives Spared Since 1966, is very specific about what needs to be done. New technical talent is needed at NHTSA in this era of electric cars, autonomous safety assists, and the computerization of motor vehicles vulnerable to hacking.

A tougher position on recalls is essential. “Automakers continue efforts to minimize expensive recall costs by delaying the recall, narrowing the scope of a recall, or denying the defect,” declares the report.

Moreover, many of the safety features and performance levels in your vehicle have not been updated for years in practical, cost-effective ways long urged by the more innovative automotive suppliers. These include child safety safeguards.

It is time for the Biden people, under the new Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, to catch up and end the soporific record of their predecessors, including that of those from the Obama/Biden Administration. (See: Jerry Cox Steven Bradbury and Why 30 Million Takata Airbags Are Not being Recalled).

The French have a saying “the more things change the more they remain the same.” That applies to the auto company executive-suite culture. In their comfortable atriums, they arrange for deniability while they press for immunity from criminal and tort laws. They still preside over obscure financing and advertising deceptions. They still dangle before buyers of their less expensive vehicles, over-priced options for long-amortized safety improvements that are standard equipment on higher-priced vehicles so as to pressure them to upgrade.

They still instruct their lobbyists to go to Congress with one message “NO, NO, NO” to long-delayed improvements for motorists to reduce the casualty toll on the highway and the various economic costs associated with such stagnant corporate stubbornness.

Biden promises a New Day from Trumpism. Let’s see if he and his team can provide America with a New Day of Public Safety from callous corporatism on the nation’s roadways.

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Trump’s Finale from Impeachment to Conviction

By Ralph Nader
January 15, 2021

Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, a graduate of Harvard Law School, asked his colleagues: “If inciting a deadly insurrection is not enough to get a president impeached, then what is?” Ten Republicans voted for Impeachment, but 197 House Republicans disagreed. Trump incited the crowd in person on the Mall. He lied to his supporters saying, “I’ll be with you” on the march to the Capitol. Trump then refused to call the crowd back when it turned into a mob that violently stormed into the Capitol. Trump scurried back to the White House to gleefully watch on TV his “special people” rampage through the Congress with destructive intent.

Why should the GOP obeisance to Trump, the Mobster in Chief, this recidivist criminal, a violator of many provisions of the Constitution, obstructor of justice “as a daily way of life” according to his former national security advisor John Bolton, and hourly lying sociopath, surprise anyone?

Congressional Republicans have aided and abetted, for four years, Trump’s assertion that “With Article II, I can do whatever I want as president.” Dangerous Donald did just that. He finally incited a massive, homicidal street crime against the very Congress that let him get away with everything, day after day, as if there were no laws and no Constitution to be observed whatsoever.

The GOP speakers who defended Trump in the House Impeachment debate will go down in history as unsurpassed political cowards and lying bloviators, led by Trump clone, belligerent Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Trump’s Congressional protectors, however, failed. The House of Representatives voted for Articles of Impeachment that are on their way to the Senate for a certain trial. The Senate should convict treacherous unrepentant Trump and ban him from ever seeking federal office again.

In the days before the trial, more incriminating evidence will emerge.

Already, a GAO investigation is underway into Republican lawmakers suspected of being complicit in aiding the mob’s objective of physically overturning the results of the presidential election. Evidence of early facilitation both before and during the armed invasion is reaching investigators, including the involvement by some Capitol Police and other police officers in plain clothes.

Trump’s business allies and supporters are not waiting for any verdicts. Major corporations such as Disney, Coca-Cola, and J.P. Morgan Chase have suspended campaign contributions to the GOP. Last week, the powerful National Association of Manufacturers demanded that Trump be removed from office under the 25th Amendment. Trump’s banks, to whom he owes hundreds of millions of dollars, are distancing themselves from their insatiable borrower. New York City has canceled its contract with the Trump corporation. More cancellations of deals with TRUMP, Inc. will come.

Though verbally defiant, admitting no mistakes, and as usual taking no responsibility, Trump is a broken man, assailing his most loyal subjects including total toady Vice President Mike Pence. Deprived of his Twitter machine and other Internet platforms, Trump will soon be a besieged debtor, a manyfold investigated and sued defendant abandoned by the likes of Mitch McConnell.

The calculus of political survival for the just re-elected McConnell’s Congressional Republicans has changed. In the minority, no longer will Republicans be able to confirm corporatist judges or pass Trump-like corporate tax cuts for the super-rich, or dismantle health and safety regulations.

But out on the MAGA hustings, Trump may be a huge tormentor, raising money and wanting to run again. Such a prospect is intolerable to McConnell. That is why he is turning against Trump by declining to oppose Impeachment and signaling that he may unleash his Republican Senators to convict Trump, if only for their own political survival. The GOP polls are slipping and will slip more as the toxic stench of what occurred before and during the January 6th attack increases.

McConnell does not want Trump either to run or threaten to run again in 2024. The only way that yoke can be lifted is to free 17 or more Republican Senators to vote for conviction followed by a simple majority vote banning Trump from future federal office.

Out of office and prohibited from regaining office, Trump will be increasingly defined by his more violent, hardcore Trumpsters. Trump being Trump, will not oppose their street actions. He will want to continue to address and exhort his followers to remain a political force.

This entanglement is already underway. While Washington, D.C. is brimming with thousands of soldiers, police, and surveillance technology, the Trump militants are unfazed. They are planning more protests.

According to Pentagon officials, reported in the New York Times, “Some 16 groups – some of them saying they will be armed and most of them made up of hardline supporters of Mr. Trump – have registered to stage protests.” This cannot be good political news for the Congressional Republicans left behind after the Trump family departs the White House.

What are the probabilities that a conviction in the Senate will be achieved? Better than 50/50, given the survival instincts of the politicians wanting the felonious Trump off their backs.

As for Trump, what he has left until noon on January 20th, barring some last-gasp grotesque eruption, is the pardon power for his closest allies like Rudy Giuliani, his family, and himself. He could enlarge the range of pardons by declaring a Day of Forgiveness on January 19th with general pardons of deserving, elderly prisoners, political prisoners, and nonviolent drug offenders in the federal prisons.

However, such a vision is inconsistent with narcissism. We’ll see.

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Can Justice Finally Overtake Trump, Its Most Defiant Fugitive?

By Ralph Nader

Despite the many crimes Donald Trump regularly committed over four years, it took his blatant incitement of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, to put him on the road to prison. (See: Letter to vice President Mike Pence Re: Invocation of Amendment 25). What transpired on Wednesday in the shadows of the Washington Monument was a pure violent street crime that resulted in five fatalities, property smashed and damaged, and many assaults by hundreds of rioters who broke into or were allowed into the Capitol.

The current prosecutor is Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael R. Sherwin. USA TODAY reported that Mr. Sherwin said: “‘We’re looking at all actors here and anyone that had a role and, if the evidence fits the elements of the crime, they’re going to be charged,’ Sherwin said these words after he was asked by a reporter if investigators are looking at the role the president played.”

From Day One in 2017, several people foresaw the signs of an emerging sociopath, using violent rhetoric to encourage illegal behavior. It wasn’t only professional psychologists who declared Trump to be severely unstable. Each day he created and disseminated dangerous fantasies. This egomaniacal wannabee monarch could not stop lying in a dangerous manner, making false accusations or engaging in delusional bragging.

Reporters, commentators, litigants, and elected representatives who were documenting Trump’s trail of political and public insanity were overwhelmed by his doubling down on his flailing and wrongdoing in plain sight. But they mostly declined to draw the enforcement conclusions arising from their convictions, further enabling Trump’s use of the power of the bully pulpit to intimidate or threaten his critics.

Remember, Trump, said, “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” He recklessly kept doing just that. The Republicans supported him and covered for him, while the Democrats huffed and puffed in place. The Democrats refused to file eleven well-documented articles of impeachment and instead only went with the Ukraine matter. (See: December 18, 2019, Congressional Record, H-12197)

Meanwhile, in dozens of ways, Trump emboldened the most extreme of his supporters. Recall his outcry “liberate Wisconsin.” Trump’s support for the armed invasion of the Michigan state capitol with impunity, and his many signals, and inactions showed the white supremacists in the streets that the President and William Barr’s Justice Department would overlook hateful racist mischief and mayhem. He even encouraged one of these groups by repeating their militant mantra verbatim.

Published warnings about Trump’s interest in insurrection were largely unheeded by the mass media and even by the independent progressive media. They were too satisfied with reporting on his outrageous behavior and tweets, and too pleased with how easy a subject Trump was for derision. We and others would invoke specific criminal statutes he violated frequently, such as the Hatch Act (using federal property and personnel for political campaign objectives) or the Anti-Deficiency Act (spending much money strictly not appropriated by Congress) and other grave flouting of statutory and regulatory, mandates, scores of congressional subpoenas and major constitutional provisions. The news media did not regard Trump’s deep lawlessness as worthy of much reporting or editorializing. The excuse was “Trump is just being Trump.” Both the media and members of Congress, without paying attention to legal penalties, allowed Trump to keep pushing the envelope on lawbreaking until his invasion of the very Congress that let him get away with so much. It took lawmakers scrambling for their lives through Congressional tunnels to wake them up beyond their rhetoric or perfidy. There are severe consequences for ignoring the non-enforcement of laws and when the media and elected officials become too jaded to challenge a president who doesn’t respect the rule of law or constitutional restraints.

This assault may not be Trump’s last act before January 20th. For sure he will increase the presidential pardons for his friends, family, and quite possibly the rioters and himself. Nobody knows what this “Mad Dog” Trump will try to do on his way out. However, it is reassuring that neither the courts nor the military have met his expectations of supporting and shielding him from his adversaries. These two institutions affirmatively refused to sanction dictatorial rule.

The mounting calls for Trump’s resignation, or prosecution, or removal by impeachment conviction or the exercise of the 25th Amendment are coming from all sides – Democrats, Republicans, bi-partisan declarations of retired military and civilian officials from past Administrations, and even business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers. Their immediate urging would be to stop further mayhem and upheavals by a cornered, rampaging commander-in-chief who knows that, in one of his favorite phrases, “this is our last chance.”

Maybe merely advancing these acts of enforcement and evictions, rooted in our Constitution and law, will be a deterrence and persuade Trump to quietly go right away to Mar-a-Largo, as suggested today on NPR by Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of Homeland Security.

That kind of finale has not been his MO, whether as a failed gambling czar, choosing corporate bankruptcy as an exit strategy, or as a president who doesn’t show remorse, admit mistakes, or that he ever “did anything wrong.”

If there is anything Trump dislikes more than being a loser (the election), it is being a two-time loser. Perhaps he will back down, play the victim again, and with the help of a stable of defense attorneys, hope that he can wear a pin-striped suit instead of an orange jumpsuit while wistfully watching Fox News behind bars.

(See our new book, Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All)

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