By Matt Welch
BEVERLY HILLS -- While Capitol Hill huffed and puffed at Ford and
Bridgestone-Firestone executives Tuesday, the man who literally wrote the book (and
the laws) on auto-safety regulation was accusing Bill Clinton and Al Gore
of being at least partially responsible for the 88 U.S. deaths linked to
Firestone's defective tires.
"These tragedies are the direct result of the Clinton-Gore de facto
deregulation policies," Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader told a hastily assembled and sparsely attended
press conference at a party campaign office in south Beverly Hills.
"They have turned [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] into
a mere toothless consulting firm to the auto companies in Michigan."
Congresspeople and senators, from Republican John McCain to Democrat Max
Cleland, have spent the past few days threatening new regulation,
stepped-up enforcement and harsh penalties for auto and tire companies that
violate safety standards and suppress evidence. Nader said both parties
have done little or nothing on the issue for the last 30 years, due to
their growing addiction to corporate money.
"The Tire Safety Standard was issued in 1968 by the U.S. Department of
Transportation, and has never been strengthened or upgraded or modernized
since then," he said. "Even the Firestone defective tires were able to meet
these weak standards, because they are based on obsolete technology."
Nader exploded onto the public scene with his 1965 book, "Unsafe at Any
Speed," which detailed the structural defects of the Chevrolet Corvair. His
work led directly to the National Traffic Act, Motor Vehicle Safety Act and
Highway Safety Act, which brought auto design under federal regulation for
the first time.
The current Bridgestone flap is tellingly similar to a 1978 investigation
into the Firestone 500 radial tire, Nader said.
"There were quite a few deaths, they covered it up, they stonewalled the
same auto safety agency, and there were congressional hearings and
deliberate calls for the enactment of criminal penalty for any future
behavior of that kind by any member of the auto or tire industries," he
said. "Nothing happened."
Nader calls for amendments to the 1960s auto safety legislation that would
allow for criminal prosecution of willful violations, and advocates new,
stricter tire and anti-rollover safety standards – but he's not holding his
breath. "Congress now has only four weeks to take advantage of a public
uproar. ... And they won't do it. The heat is off, the media is off to
Hammering away this week at "corporate
fraud, crime and abuse," Nader singled out the Clinton-Gore administration for
failing to appoint strong administrators, replenish depleted oversight
budgets, push for stricter standards, or use the executive branch to
adequately enforce existing laws.
"And it's just this failure that led the auto companies and the tire
companies to ignore their full reporting obligations when they learned of
the deaths increasing on the highway because of Firestone's defective tires
on the Ford Explorer," he charged.
Enforcement against "corporate crime" is just one of many issues Nader says will
be ignored by the cash-stuffed Bush and Gore campaigns.
"Hundreds of billions of dollars are stolen from Americans every year, as a
result of corporate and white-collar fraud, and tens of thousands of
Americans are injured or lose their lives each year, because of corporate
negligence, or corporate criminality," said Nader, who used the words
"corporate" or "corporation" at least 57 times in less than one hour.
"Clinton and Gore talk about street crime and putting more police on the
street, but not about corporate crime and putting more prosecutors in the
One of Nader's more radical solutions is to re-write corporation law to
allow repeat offenders to have their charters pulled, and be placed into
trusteeships until they achieve "a more decent level of behavior." He also called for CEOs of
negligent companies to receive stiff jail sentences -- up to life imprisonment.
"It is clear that conditions in our prisons will improve if corporate
prosecutions are stepped up, because corporate executives don't like bad
food," he quipped.
Nader is on a three-day swing through California, where he will speak at
several universities and raise money from entertainment and Internet
executives. Tomorrow he is sandwiching a fundraising dinner at ex-Viacom
chief Frank Biondi's home between appearances at Cal State Long Beach and
the University of Southern California.
You can read daily coverage of Ralph Nader's presidential campaign at www.NewsForChange.com
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