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Original Green Party coverage
Nader blames administration for tire deaths
Says lax oversight, outdated laws repeatedly pave way for tragedy
By Matt Welch / NEWSFORCHANGE

09.13.00 | 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 another thing."

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 suites."

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

© 2000 NewsForChange.com

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