Steinzor Reacts to GM Settlement Deal

by Rena Steinzor

September 17, 2015

CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor reacted to today's announcement of a settlement between General Motors and the Justice Department over charges stemming from the company's failure to disclose a deadly ignition defect it millions of its cars. Steinzor said:

This settlement is shamefully weak. GM and its executives knew for years that they had a big problem with the ignition switch, which caused cars to stall at high speeds, depriving drivers of power steering, brakes, and airbags.  The company’s dysfunctional culture convened committees to palaver about it, while nothing was done, a culture described by Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, as “the GM nod.”  But daunted by the company’s size and prestige, U.S. attorney Preet Bharara blinked, collecting $900 million as a cost of doing business, but excusing GM from admitting its criminal wrongdoing.  This kind of sweetheart deal shows that justice in America is anything but blind.

Steinzor is the author of Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.

Tagged as: GM
I watched the Democracy Now show on this topic last night, and was appalled once again about how large corporations (like GM), and its boards, officers and chief executives can get off scott free from any criminal prosecution when it is clear that they blatantly and knowingly violated the law in a manner that put the safety of the public/consumer at grave risk and killed 100+ innocent people in the process who were just driving their cars. I know this same thing is also happening with Tier I & II auto parts suppliers who also get off with a slap on their hands and some meager civil penalties when they get caught red handed for knowingly violating environmental and public/employee health and safety laws. I also watched the online video "EPA: An Agency Gone Wild or Just Doing Its Job/", that included Prof Rena Steinzor and David Doniger, who explained in a panel discussion how there is this interwoven network of attorneys and other professionals who go from the EPA and DOJ to working in the private sector and then have these cozy relationships with their past employers, and are subsequently able to work out settlements for gross white collar law breakers in a manner which frees these influential, and often wealthy, individuals from the “fair and equal” application of the law. This happens over and over again, while at the same time, there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of minor, nonviolent law offenders (drug possession), that are typically common hard-working, individuals, in prison for several years or more. Similar to the outcome of this long-term negligence by GM on these defective “ignition switches”, soft handed settlements are also facilitated the justice departments through the same type of relationships with elected officials/congressmen (state and federal) turned lobbyists; and likewise, the same thing happens between the government officials and their major/wealthy political donors. Besides violating the fundamental principle of "equality under the law", these aforementioned malfeasants help facilitate backsliding on compliance because there is no, little, enforcement, and no consequences for "bad actors". I hesitate to call it a broad scale conspiracy by a group of self-serving, conniving, unscrupulous den of thieves, but to a common man, that is exactly how it appears. Maybe there are not bribes being exchanged, but the passing of political donations and favors, and the professional cronyism that occurs which paves the way for a professional to get a well-paying job in the private sector when they leave government, almost seems just as bad. As a 40-year environmental professional engineer/manager, all I have observed during the past couple of decades, is a relaxing of environmental laws and regulations, and few, if any, new environmental laws/amendments. The latter occurs in favor of: “educate more and regulate less (self-regulation? – what a joke!)”; capitalism and market forces will dictate what is best for humankind and the planet (call it “trickle down on the environment’ principle); having sound environmental laws/regulations and requiring compliance will only lower employment and destroy the economy. The pendulum took a major swing a long time ago, and is stuck in that position, in favor of big business, and maximizing profits and personal wealth for the millionaire/billionaire class. The best thing that we can do at this time is to continue to broadcast this profound injustice and failure to adequately protect/preserve the environment and the health/safety of individuals/public; and go out and ardently support and vote for politicians who we believe have an environmental conscience and a belief in applying the law equally.
— Giacomo Fischiatore
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Rena Steinzor is a Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and a past president of the Center for Progressive Reform. She is the author of Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.

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