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Murder is Murder

Cross posted from : ALifeAhead

It was in Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. when I saw the first sign which read, “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” Corporations are legal people and board members can be held responsible for the criminal acts of the corporation, so why not execute them?

General Motors as early as 2005, began receiving reports of drivers losing control of vehicles and of air bags failing to deploy in crashes. GM engineers immediately identified a litany of possible causes, all of them not GM’s responsibility. As early as 2004, GM engineers had found a problem with the ignition switch location on the Chevy Cobalt, citing it could be switched off with the bump of a careless knee. GM engineers had decided against relocating the switch due to “cost and long lead times.”

The defects assessment division of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration e-mailed the office of defects in 2007, citing owner complaints beginning in 2005, plus a pattern of warranty repairs and injuries as grounds for an official investigation.

GM responded, Problem? What Problem? What are you talking about? GM claimed to have no evidence of a defect, while company engineers had been working on the issue for over two years. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration declined to open an investigation, but revisited the issue in 2010. In May of 2009, a Chevrolet Cobalt was involved in a fatal crash, where the air bags had failed to deploy. Once again, the government and the company agreed to review their data and nothing was done. But here is some data worth reviewing; GM had approved this ignition switch for production in 2002, despite the switch failing to meet company specifications.

Meanwhile, beside the individual claims, GM also began receiving requests for an investigation from rental car companies. An Alamo claims adjuster wrote to GM in 2006, after a fatal accident involving a Chevy Cobalt. From the police report: “the sedan drifted across lanes, got caught in a gravel median and rolled over. The seat belt was buckled. The air bag didn’t deploy. The driver was killed.” GM reported the accident to the NHTSA with the assessment that there may not be sufficient information to assign cause to the crash.

The Chevy Cobalt is “drive-by-wire” vehicle, meaning there is no mechanical connection between steering wheel and the front wheels. When the ignition switch fails or is bumped, you effectively have no control over the car and no air bag protection to boot.

There have been 31 fatalities directly related to a defective ignition switch which did not meet specs, before the first one was ever installed. At the very least, it’s voluntary manslaughter. Given GM’s paper trail of dodges and subterfuges, suggesting the problem was driver’s heavy key rings or rental customers unfamiliar with the vehicle, it’s nothing less than first degree murder. A corporation making decisions in its chain of command, which if followed, would result in the unnecessary death and injury of countless consumers.

More than a protest sign, it was a documentary I’d watched about the Nuremberg trials, which inspired me. The Nuremberg trials were a novel event in world history. Most of our allies, including Great Britain and France favored summary executions of Nazi war criminals. Even the term War Criminal was a novelty. But instead, the idea took hold, rather than seeking vengeance; the allies would hold criminal trials. The tribunal criminalized aggressive war, criminalized the following of illegal orders, making them not moral crimes or lapses of judgment, but legal crimes.

But just following orders is just following orders, isn’t it?  A soldier might be shot or sent to the Eastern Front. The GM executive might not get that promotion, the ticket to a golden future with a key to the executive washroom. They might be let go or fired, for preempting company profits in the face of the unnecessary deaths of innocent men, women and children.

Current GM CEO Mary Barra has apologized; saying she was real sorry and promising never to let it happen again. GM now supports legislation prohibiting rental car companies from renting those vehicles, unless they have been repaired. Because you just can’t trust a rental car company, now can you? GM has also reorganized its engineering department, firing two engineers it held responsible. It has established an “emerging issues team” under GM’s global safety division. They’re task is to investigate and forward any issues to GM’s legal department to guarantee safety issues are handled promptly.

GM culls out a few scapegoats and fires them, promising paper work reforms. If GM were a country instead of a corporation, under the laws of the Nuremberg tribunal, GM executives are guilty of crimes against humanity. A ten year, systemic, murderous attack against an unsuspecting public for the purposes of enriching themselves.

GM executives answering, “We didn’t know” or “it wasn’t our department” are simply parroting the corporate philosophy of speak no evil and shut up to move up. It didn’t work in Nuremberg and it shouldn’t work in Washington. Murder is murder!

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David Cox

David Cox