Tim Cook, Apple, and Runaway Limitless Corporate Greed

By Ralph Nader
April 30, 2021

David Gelles, the New York Times reporter, likes to report about corporate plutocrats raking it in while stifling or endangering their workers. We’ve all seen those large advertisements by big companies praising the sacrifices of their brave workers during this Covid-19 pandemic. When workers ask for living wages, most of these bosses say “No” but take plenty of dough for themselves.

Gelles reports that Boeing, after its criminal negligence brought down two 737 MAX planes and killed 346 people, went into a corporate tailspin. The company laid off 30,000 workers and its sales and stocks plummeted as it reported a $12 billion loss. No matter, the new Boeing boss, David Calhoun, managed to pay himself about $10,500 an hour, forty hours a week, plus benefits and perks.

“Executives are minting fortunes, while laid-off workers line up at food banks,” writes Gelles. Carefully chosen Boards of Directors rubberstamp lavish compensation packages, as they haul in big money themselves for attending a few Board meetings.

It gets worse. Hilton Hotel had many rooms empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But CEO Chris Nassetta made sure his pockets weren’t empty. He was paid $55.9 million in compensation in 2020 or more than a million dollars a week!

Gelles goes on to report that with “the cruise industry at a standstill…,” the Norwegian Cruise Line, “doubled the pay of Frank Del Rio, its chief executive, to $36.4 million.” That is more than $700,000 per week. He must have worked overtime counting empty ships and red ink.

T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint got government antitrust approval with the assurance that more jobs would be created with cost savings. Instead, they’re starting layoffs while awarding CEO Mike Sievert over a million dollars a week. Sometimes, CEOs make more dollars from their company than the entire company itself makes in profits. Companies that lay off workers pay their top executives huge amounts, and still have the avarice to demand and get federal stimulus grants.

On March 22, the New York Times reported a new analysis by IRS researchers and academics about tax evasion by the richest 1% of U.S. households. Taken as a whole, these super-rich don’t even report a fifth of their income, according to this study. The ultra-wealthy get away with this heist by offshoring to tax havens and pass-through businesses. Adding to this unlawful evasion is their upper-class power over Congress to rig the tax laws so they can avoid even more taxes.

The Republicans, by starving the IRS budget and audit staff over the past decade, have aided and abetted enormous tax evasions. Curiously, the cowardly Democrats have not made this an issue in their campaigns against the GOP. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year are at stake.

Trump, of course, made matters worse. ProPublica found the IRS audited the poor at around the same rate as the richest Americans.

Big Corporations make out like no mere individuals. Earlier this month, the New York Times told its readers that The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) study revealed: “55 of the nation’s largest corporations paid no federal income tax on more than $40 billion in profits last year.” These companies even received $3.5 billion in rebates from the Treasury Department, so zany are the fine-print tax bonanzas.

Twenty-six corporations paid no federal income taxes since 2017, according to the ITEP study. These included Nike and FedEx.

Corporations get lots of these tax breaks by arguing before Congress that they need them to invest and create jobs. Repeatedly, these promises turn out to be false. Some have called them lies, citing profits totaling over 7 trillion dollars in the past decade being shredded in buybacks of the companies’ own stock.

Apple, whose quasi-monopoly reaps huge quarterly profits, just announced another $90 billion in stock buybacks. Apple doesn’t know what to do with its cash from vastly overpriced computers and iPhones. Apple, not surprisingly, pays very little in federal income taxes to Uncle Sam – despite the U.S. being the land of its birth and source of ample R & D corporate welfare paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

CEO Tim Cook, arguably the most miserly CEO plutocrat in America, turns a deaf ear to health, labor, and environmental specialists pleading with him to address the solid waste of its junked electronic products and pay its serf-labor in China a living wage. These two expenditures would not consume 10 percent of Apple’s enormous profits. To which, Emperor Cook says no dice.

Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Kimberly A. Clausing, a U.S. Treasury official, said according to the Washington Post, that while other wealthy nations typically raise roughly 3 percent of GDP through corporate taxes, in the United States that share fell to just 1 percent following the 2017 Trump tax cut−all while corporate profits, as a share of U.S. GDP, were setting records.

The usual progressive members of Congress issue denunciations of this whole corporate, ultra-rich tax escape racket. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe corporations pay too little in taxes, according to Gallup polling. Unfortunately, nothing happens in Congress to address this injustice.

When are the American people going to move on to Congress and their Big Boy paymasters? When the plutocratic class evades taxes, either there are fewer public services, more public deficits, or higher taxes on the middle class. As Joe Biden says – they must pay “their fair share.” People, use your civic muscle to make your members of Congress act and do it, now!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Tim Cook, Apple, and Runaway Limitless Corporate Greed

If Biden is a “union guy” – Go After the Taft-Hartley Monster!

By Ralph Nader
April 23, 2021

President Joe Biden likes to say, “I’m a union guy.” Unfortunately, as Vice President from 2009 to 2017, his boss, Barack Obama wouldn’t let him be a “union guy.” Even with large Democratic majorities in Congress and control of the White House, worker needs went unmet.

Setting records for raising Wall Street campaign cash, Obama reneged on his 2008 promise to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour by 2011. He reneged on a promise to the AFL-CIO to push for “card check” to facilitate workers wanting to form a union. He did nothing to preserve traditional earned worker pensions provided by corporations while bailing out Wall Street crooks whom he refused to prosecute.

Obama stubbornly blocked an eager Biden from going to speak at a massive workers’ rally in Madison, Wisconsin at the critical time when Democrats were challenging corporatist Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union “budget repair bill.”

One would think after eight years of biding his time, a liberated Joe Biden would be the most pro-union labor president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He probably is by default, due to the cowardliness of his predecessors who would have lost some of their own elections without union support.

The question now is: Given the entrenched deprivations of workers and abandonment of labor to serf-labor countries abroad, is President Biden pro-union-labor enough, apart from the temporary Covid-19 relief? The answer has to be a qualified, NO.

He has dropped into limbo the long-overdue $15 federal minimum wage from his legislative priorities. He did give strong verbal support to the Amazon workers union-organizing drive at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. However, when the workers lost, Biden did not assail the extreme union busting tactics by Amazon that exploited weak labor protection laws. He has finally nominated the new head of OSHA – the under-funded, Trump-wrecked job safety agency that is in shambles.

What he has done is come out strongly for the Congressional Democrat’s latest version of labor law reform – the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) that passed the House on March 9, 2021, with a 225-206 vote.

The problem with the PRO Act, like its legislative predecessors over the past 60 years, is its faint-hearted attempt to chip away at the unmentioned, gigantic, anti-union TAFT-HARTLEY ACT OF 1947 – a devastating anti-organizing and union representation law.

The Taft-Hartley law was so extreme that its principal author, Senator Robert Taft (R-OH), offered to amend some of its sharpest claws in the late 1940s. His offer was rejected by outraged unions who wanted a more significant repeal. That, astonishingly, was the last major bellow by the large unions and the AFL-CIO against this stifling chokehold over the union movement. Union membership in the corporate sector is at 6.3 percent. Overall union membership regularly hits new lows.

Even mentioning the repeal of Taft-Hartley by unions and Democratic candidates has become taboo. When campaigning for president in Detroit at a labor hall in 2004, a retired UAW worker came up to me with tears in his eyes. He said, “I never thought I would hear getting rid of Taft-Hartley from a presidential candidate.”

On the 50th and 60th anniversaries of Taft-Hartley’s passage by a Republican Congress – that is 1997 and 2007 – I strenuously urged the AFL-CIO and the largest unions to hold public demonstrations of protest. (Does anybody think big business would have allowed such handcuffs without battling year after year for repeal?)

The union leaders wouldn’t inform the public of this pernicious law with a national event against this tragic curtailing of worker’s freedoms to band together and bargain together in major workplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, and McDonald’s. No other western country allows such draconian anti-labor restrictions.

Unions are waiting on the Democratic Party to lead while the Democrats are waiting upon big business. Biden should make ending the anti-worker, anti-union, and pro-employer union-busting, Taft-Hartley Act the battle cry for the Republic. The PRO Act doesn’t come close to this objective.

Taft-Hartley is a wide-ranging, intricate paradise for union-busting law firms, corporatist legislators, and atavistic judges. It authorized states to enact so-called “right to work” laws or more properly named “right to shirk” laws, allowing workers to keep benefits of union contracts but not pay union dues. This provision vastly decreases union membership and increases employer leverage to resist union organizing.

Taft-Hartley gives employers all kinds of ways to block union certification elections, harass workers with demands for obstructionist hearings on what is an “appropriate bargaining unit,” permits aggressive anti-union organizing, and outlaws the “closed shop” for union solidarity.

One of the most damaging provisions defines “employees” so as to exclude supervisors and independent contractors. This greatly diminished the pool of workers eligible to be unionized. For example, years ago AT&T widely expanded the number of “supervisors” to both deplete the union membership numbers and use their “supervisors” as management control tools.

Taft-Hartley has other pro-management provisions, including controls over pensions, disclosure of information, and workplace time for union purposes.

Once Taft-Hartley was on the books, its restrictions were strengthened by the courts and the National Labor Relations Board (whose last pro-corporate general counsel was just fired by Biden). With the expansion of the “gig economy,” by Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and other companies whose business model is built on having no employees, the challenge for American workers is nothing less than displacing anti-labor dictates with a comprehensive worker’s human rights law.

The PRO Act is decidedly not anywhere near Biden’s recent recognition that “Nearly 60 million Americans would join a union if they get a chance …. They know that without unions, they can run the table on workers – union and non-union alike” (Statement by President Joe Biden on the House Taking Up the PRO Act, March 9, 2021).

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on If Biden is a “union guy” – Go After the Taft-Hartley Monster!

Reporter’s Alert: Part IV

By Ralph Nader
April 16, 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 fourth installment of suggestions:

1. Among the many reports on the defeat of workers trying to form a union in Bessemer, Alabama’s Amazon warehouse, there was little inquiry into why labor – after a strenuous effort by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) – lost by about a two to one margin with about half the workers not voting. A postmortem would be fascinating regarding:

a. the reasons why workers did not vote;
b. why the labor strategies and tactics didn’t work, in spite of very positive media coverage and endorsements by prominent politicians and celebrities; and
c. what different strategies or alternative approaches, in retrospect, might have worked better.

2. After the November elections, there were rumors that the Trumpsters were going to destroy documents, correspondence, and emails that could be incriminating. You will recall the noise Trump made from 2016 on about Hillary’s “missing” emails. Have you read any reporting about what the incoming Democrats, agency by agency, department by department, have discovered about the shredding of digital and paper records? Given Trump’s habit of lawlessness, the dismantling of regulatory programs by and for his cronies, and the sheer corruption of the Trump regime year after year, the soil was fertile for the wholesale destruction of evidence. Looking for emails by government lawyers – e.g., Office of Special Counsel – advising Trump not to have political campaign events on federal property and not to give campaign-enhancing orders to federal employees, in clear violation of The Hatch Act, should be an inviting reporting initiative.

3. Some in New York State claim that higher state taxes on the super-rich will encourage wealthy people to make Florida their residence, because Florida, like some other southern states, has lower taxes. Curious reporters may sense a story here. What price do Floridians specifically pay because the state collects less revenue – lesser social welfare and other public services, poorer infrastructure, less health care for the indignant, poorer schools and colleges in the public sphere, etc.? We often read about how southerners pay lower taxes, especially business taxes, but there are societal costs to the vast majority of the people that need to be revealed in a comprehensive manner.

4. A more general suggestion: Great stories have exposed problems, followed by the promises of reform by government officials or companies. Where is the follow-up to see if the announced investigation or corrective action ever resulted in any change? Over the decades, for example, the New York press would expose “sewer service,” a terrible assault on the poor who are sued by creditors. “Sewer service” happens when the party suing intentionally fails to provide service of process to a party in a lawsuit to prevent the party from having a chance to respond or even know about the lawsuit. Sometime later, these assaults would quietly resume after the investigations and/or the news coverage. Such reprehensible practices often resume when the headlines fade. Some recidivist habits or promises need the rays of the sun, as Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”. Reviewing a list of past “investigations” to see, what if anything, was truly resolved by these declared investigations may produce worthy news. FOIAs may be especially useful here.

5. There is much talk these days among the high officials in Washington about restoring or strengthening “international order.” Historically, treaties have been a major way of securing international order. Why then, regardless of which party has been in power, are there so many treaties signed onto by almost every country in the world, yet not ratified by the Senate nor even signed by the President, and sent to the Senate for approval?

It is easy to see a list of treaties and other international agreements on the State Department website: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/TIF-2020-Full-website-view.pdf. Some of the international agreements that have, inexplicably, been opposed or ignored by the U.S. include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the International Criminal Court, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Why?

One of the reasons for such American “exceptionalism” is that the world’s most powerful Empire wishes not to be so restricted by the rule of law because it can exert the “Rule of Power.” Hardworking civic organizations are frustrated with the lack of media coverage of the many variables involving foreign, military, and corporate policies on a global scale. Prolonged official “inaction” often dulls the media’s sense of newsworthiness. Reporters, with few exceptions, need to wake up and report on the ongoing consequences of such disengagement, immunities, and lawlessness.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Reporter’s Alert: Part IV

Alert Reporters Facing the Void!

By Ralph Nader
April 9, 2021

Let’s contemplate on good reporters. If you are a regular reader of prominent newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post (and the dispatches by AP and Reuters), do you ever get the feeling that reporters who write great stories of corporate greed and crime are writing into a void? Their reports accumulate on the road to nowhere – no impact, no consequences for the culprits.

Again and again, with a few luminous exceptions, their exposés fall on the inattentive ears of those who are supposed to be doing something about these abuses.

Patricia Cohen of The New York Times just wrote about the “Dozens of Big Companies [that] Paid Zero in Federal Taxes.” I’ve read this same story for years. Nothing happens. All are plunged into the void. The situation keeps getting more abominable.

Jason DeParle has been writing rigorously on poverty and hunger in America for years in The New York Times. Poverty persists, including child hunger, while the GDP expands big time. It took Covid-19 for Biden to send Congress some temporary alleviation of child poverty.

“Wage Theft Often Targets Low-Income Workers. Here’s How Police Can Fight It,” writes Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in The Washington Post. I read about this special non-prosecuted crime in law school decades ago.

“Appalling Lack of Public Toilets in the U.S.” reads another headline in The New York Times. How many years have we been told about this exceptional American deprivation among Western nations? People still have to hold it.

“Don’t Fall for Trump’s Latest Grift,” reports The Washington Post’s Molly Roberts. What difference would it make if we don’t? Trump has gotten away with widely reported lawlessness for decades, especially during his four years in the White House.

There is yet another wave of investigative articles and books on Amazon’s drive for domination. Amazon keeps getting more dominant. Same for Apple, Google, and Facebook.

Sarah Kliff of The New York Times writes regular exposés of staggering medical billing gouging of patients. Nary a ripple from the enforcement authorities wallowing in a weakened democracy.

Hundreds of stories on the climate crisis while carbon buildup continues to set records. Most of these stories do not mention or probe Congress – the one powerful institution that can turn the country around. Just 535 of them in Congress and we know their names. Get their reactions!

In the April 8th New York Times, David Leonhardt writes a story titled “A Dirty Little Secret – Corporate Tax Rates and the Very Rich.” Not secretive at all. That narrative has been written from many angles again and again by the Times’s past reporters, such as David Cay Johnston. It is because they all ended up in the Void that Mr. Leonhardt could make it look like a fresh dispatch. The Void never takes a holiday.

The great reporters do not stop with their first reporting. Their definition of newsworthiness expands to reporting about who is trying, officially and civically, to do something about the abuses, but is lacking public visibility. The reporter moves from writing a feature to following an ongoing dynamic begging for more public coverage. More details and evidence emanate from these quests. More legislators see the need for public hearings and more enforcers wake up to their duties. Without media giving legs to their first story, they meet the ever-patient Void repeatedly.

Sometimes, editors aren’t interested in the follow-up. They’ve got their exposé to submit for the journalistic prizes they crave. Enough making waves already. Unfortunately, there is for most of these reportorial fact-tellers, a peculiar satiety, a self-narrowing of their roles, a sense that they’ve done their job and it’s for others to give their findings “legs.” That attitude is an aborted sense of “newsworthiness.”

Often, moving beyond the initial byline is not easy. The indefatigable, ground-breaking military affairs reporter for The Washington Post, Walter Pincus, would try to have a follow-up for his revelations of the military-industrial-Congressional complex over the decades. He was met with internal disinterest and external cowardly resistance, especially in Congress where he once worked.

Alas, on a good many topics, we are in a golden age of muckraking exposés and whistle-blowing documentaries. All mostly meet the Void – perpetuated by a stubborn plutocracy daily subjugating our deteriorating democracy.

Sometimes, I’ve tried to help reporters give legs to their stories. For official source journalists, like those in the Times and Post, who “cover” or dittohead the declarations of Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell, they don’t break stories for them to have legs in the first place. Try getting them, for example, to write a story about near-zero interest rates depriving over 150 million savers, while the Fed ignores the gouging interest rates by pay-day lenders, student loan creditors, and unpaid credit card balances.

For other reporters, it’s more puzzling why it is so hard to elevate the expectation levels for their good work. Because we’ve done considerable work years ago on the computerized billing fraud epidemic in the U.S., I’ve tried several times to contact Sarah Kliff and share our knowledge for widening her reportorial impact. To no avail.

For reporters who are frustrated – try comparing notes with your readers!

See Reporter’s Alert.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Alert Reporters Facing the Void!

Can the Decline in Letter-Writing be Reversed?

By Ralph Nader
April 2, 2021

When Cornell University Press sent me an early copy of my sister, Laura Nader’s book: Letters To and From an Anthropologist, a collection of correspondences compiled over fifty-five years, I wondered whether such print letter-writing exchanges assembled in books were nearing extinction.

My impression preceded young parents relating remarks from their little children asking, “What’s a letter?” or “Where do you put the stamp, Mom?” Certainly, the Internet Age is not conducive to sitting down and writing a personal letter exclusive to its recipient. It is quicker to send an email or a text message. But as we know when we receive a thoughtful letter these days, amidst the avalanche of digital messages, filters, and clutter, it is not, by a long stretch, the same sort of impactful communication.

Years ago, I read some of the vast number of letters that Thomas Jefferson wrote week after week, including some exchanges with John Adams. The book of letters between Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Harold J. Laski was especially absorbing to anyone interested in political philosophy, government, and law writ large.

A few weeks ago, I perused a translation of personal letters by the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven, starting with the prodigy’s letter at age 11 in 1781, dedicating three piano sonatas to the Prince Elector of Cologne, Max Friedrich. In a preface, the translator J.S. Shedlock writes: [Beethoven’s] “letters offer a unique biography, for studying the man in relations to his times, while such works as the Eroica and Choral symphonies certainly reflect them outwardly.”

Without such letters (handwritten using quill pens) by both famous people and the common folk, much of what is captured with ink on paper would be entirely lost to history. Fortunately, until the 20th century, masters of letter-writing enriched our knowledge with such uncensored observations, in addition to probing the depths of their own personal feelings.

The trials and horrors of war were personally conveyed in battlefield letters from soldiers to their families and friends from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They provided invaluable primary sources that pierce the “fog of war” and its propaganda. A new virtual Museum of American War Letters just opened on Sunday, March 28, 2021, “showcasing extraordinary correspondences from the American Revolution to the present day.”

Letters are the writers’ exclusive media, written without external censorship, editing, or abridgement. With the arrival of the telephone and the Internet, letter writing became a luxury less and less indulged. As one of Laura’s students observed several years ago: “The only letters my generation gets are bank statements, credit card bills, or letters from colleges.” Even many of these messages are now delivered digitally.

The U.S. Postal Service has reported a dramatic decline in First Class Mail, now left mostly to requests for donations, subscriptions, and gracious acknowledgement of birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.

Sadly, for the work of consumer advocates, the fading of print letters has included consumer complaints, often with documentation, that once provided a rich lode of important fresh information that Laura used in her book, No Access to Law: Alternatives to the American Judicial System (1980). Such letters have led to mass recalls of defective products, important litigation, and legislation.

Laura’s collection of letters and her responses cover much broader ground. Here you can read the felt concerns and observations of students, scientists worrying out loud, agitating scholars, military officers, prisoners, politicians, reflective workers, lawyers, and feminists. They were drawn to corresponding with Laura because of her prodigious, diverse output as a leading anthropologist and teacher who focused her discipline on controversial subjects such as global power that shaped and controlled local living.

She always insists on answering the question: “Knowledge for what and for whom?” Laura became known for her irreverent, contrarian insights because she expressed them early before they became accepted or commonplace. Her struggles over the University of California’s (Berkeley) decades-long, shocking pay inequity between male and female professors is but one of many examples of challenges to accepted norms leading to debate and change.

It is her hope that this collection of correspondences “will inspire both young and old to experience the privacy and freedom communication affords…when pen is put to paper, or when pen is put down to ponder.”

Since the book came out late last year, a culture too frantically “internetting” barely noticed. Despite Princeton University Professor of Anthropology John Borneman saying, “Her range of fields is amazingly bold…,” or how Yale University Professor of Anthropology Erik Harms described as her letters revealing “…the dignified role that disagreement can play in democratic and scholarly discourse.”

Literary journals and magazines, who received the book from Cornell University Press, greeted this testament to the societal treasures flowing from letter-writing with editorial indifference.

This is not surprising. Of my scores of timely, policy-focused letters to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, regarding what they were doing, not doing, or should be doing, 99% received no response or even an acknowledgement from them, their staff, or their departmental appointees. I collected these letters in a volume titled, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015 (Seven Stories Press, 2015). Thousands of other ignored citizen correspondents to Presidents and members of Congress weren’t so fortunate. I have recently taken to writing print letters to thoughtful practitioners of the fourth estate – including friendly acquaintances – asking them about their practice for replying to letters. So far no responses! Do you ever hear anybody saying these days – “I’m catching up with my correspondence.”?

Last month, I wrote to New York Times Book Review editor and touted podcaster, Pamela Paul, wondering if she would have a thoughtful broad-gauged writer contribute an essay on the state of letter-writing within the historic traditions of this genre.

Paradoxically, the Letters-to-the-Editor space is among the most read section in newspapers and magazines. Just this February, John Stewart, an English teacher at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia received a terrific response when he asked his students to write a letter to President Biden or Vice President Harris. He called their words “heartfelt, insightful, acute and achingly beautiful.” In the midst of Covid-19 pandemic pressures, he “couldn’t be more proud of them.”

What’s that saying? “Hope Springs Eternal”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Can the Decline in Letter-Writing be Reversed?

Reporter’s Alert: Part III

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 third installment of suggestions:

1. Over the past decade the subordination, on a grand scale, of revenue-based spending to debt-incurring spending, has steadily evolved. In recent months, the pace has quickened. This kind of spending has become an increasingly bipartisan practice. Since the Covid-19 pandemic started the federal government has approved spending nearly five trillion dollars relating to pandemic rescues and stimuli expenditures. This outlay was entirely deficit-financed.

The Republicans primarily objected to the amount of spending, while the Democrats avoided any serious effort to restore the immense Trump tax cuts for the super-wealthy and mega-corporations – notwithstanding Joe Biden’s rhetoric in a major pre-inauguration address. This kind of spending imposes grotesque economic burdens on future generations. The children and grandchildren will pay later for deficit-financing of the $300 per month being granted to children today. Shame on today’s Congressional “adults”!

Has increasing or restoring revenues become a taboo for both Parties? The more Members of Congress get away with such spending, the more they’ll keep increasing the red ink numbers. Reporters should be alert to history, logic, and arithmetic. Spotlight the sugar-daddy consequences now and later.

2. Why are all those lawsuits against Trump – tort and criminal cases – taking so long to mature? Obviously, Trump’s lawyers are stonewalling and delaying; but the judges who control these adjudications need to keep the legal process moving. Trial lawyers shake their heads at how long it is taking for the legal challenges to Trump to move forward.

James D. Zirin has written a book on the 3500 lawsuits brought by and against Trump in his long career (Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits). Even, he is having some difficulty explaining the extraordinary delays. Reporters – dig in and help us understand. If Trump could delay all cases for at least four years or more, what does this say about rule of law?

3. New York State is grappling with large deficits due to reduced revenues from the pandemic’s effects. There is nothing especially new here. What is unique about the Empire State is that it has, since 1982, collected and rebated approximately $350 billion in “stock transfer taxes.” The money rebated just last year is about what this year’s state deficit is expected to be. This minuscule sales tax on stocks, bonds, and derivatives transactions amounts to about, on average, 5 cents per $100 in sales – a tiny fraction of one percent. Compare this to the 8% sales tax New Yorkers have to pay on their purchases of necessities and wants. This stock transfer tax is a “progressive” sales tax since the upper-income rapid traders would pay the bulk of it.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been asked about this obvious need to keep, not rebate, the tax (which NY State kept from early 1900 to 1982). Cuomo shrugs it off. Opponents of the stock tax make the ridiculous claim that Wall Street would move to New Jersey to escape a tax, the likes of which Japan, the UK, Kenya, and other countries were or are collecting.

Why isn’t there yet serious reporting on this timely and important issue in The New York Times? Other major media covering New York (Tom Precious of The Buffalo News, Michael Gormley of Newsday, and Rachel Silberstein and Claire Bryan of the Albany Times Union, have at least made an effort to alert the public about this debate).

This is more than a one-day story, far from it. A new Zogby Poll just out shows strong majorities of New Yorkers favoring this stock sales tax and provides additional positive results when questions suggest infrastructure uses for the money. For more information, you can contact Jim Henry (globalhavenindustry.com), Assemblyman Phil Steck (nyassembly.gov), and NYPIRG’s Blair Horner (nypirg.org).

4. On a lighter side, what’s happening to comedy in the time of sudden politically correct terminations? It would be interesting to hear from the writers, performers, artists, and others about their views, experiences, and positions on obliterating past “infractions” throughout comedic history. What are the writers and performers self-censoring within a free medium where “anything goes?” What does the creative class think about the attacks on provocative cartoons, comic strips, stand-up comedy, ethnic joke books (which used to be wildly popular), and even political satire? What about “Saturday Night Live” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”?

Reporters could pursue this story in many surprising directions and uncover surprising dissenting views from the conventional sanctions which presently are in the ascendancy. Remember, some dictators have been known to go into their greatest rages against the “cartoon” part of the media. Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” made Hitler squirm. Do you wonder why? “In humor there is truth.” Satire has a long history of exposing the flaws of political leaders with less censorship than other forms of criticism.

5. Government guarantees are regularly used to prop up corporate capitalism. Government guarantees for corporations go beyond the usual corporate welfare of direct subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts. Many hundreds of billions of dollars in outstanding loan guarantees expand a stealth form of “corporate socialism” where the privatization of profit and the socialization of risks and misconduct displaces capitalist canons. Normally, but not always, authorized by Congress without clear standards or open administrative processes, these loan guarantees from Uncle Sam are granted for everything from huge cost overruns in nuclear power plant construction (e.g., Georgia and South Carolina) to the customers of U.S. exporters (e.g., Boeing).

Many federal departments and agencies participate in this cushy guaranteed-loan racket that has had bipartisan support and almost no Congressional oversight. Whether corporations are too big to fail, corrupt, or mismanaged, but politically connected, or too averse to traditional acceptance of business risk and market verdicts, their CEOs and their banks are happy to take loan guarantees and still complain about the federal government.

This arena offers options for enormous multidirectional media pursuits. The secrecy here needs to be subjected to FOIAs, exposed by whistleblowers, and examined through rigorous Congressional hearings. (See: goodjobsfirst.org).

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Reporter’s Alert: Part III

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Reporters’ Alert: Launching a New Website Part II

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Perfidy Meets Putty – Congressional Democrats Betray Voters

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Reporters’ Alert: Launching a New Website

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Reporter Extraordinaire: The Pioneering Pathways of James Ridgeway