Breathtaking (literally) corporate malfeasance.

Lately, the only things I find unspeakably awful are the Republican presidential candidates. I know other awful monsters are out there, but my outrage meter has been pegged pretty high.

This, though, exceeds it by a mile.

Volkswagen modified the engines on a several VW and Audi diesel car models so that the emission control systems would only kick in when the cars were being tested for emissions. The rest of the time, the uncontrolled engines would spew out up to forty times the federal limits for nitrogen oxide.

Let that sink in a minute.

This was not a company shaving a few cents off the design of a car, such as with the Ford Pinto. Nor was it a company making ethically dubious decisions that nonetheless fell squarely within legal boundaries. This was a company deliberately and illegally modifying its products in a manner that endangers not merely their customers but everyone. Furthermore, the company in question lied about what was going on when told about the difference between real world and test results, only admitting to the very ugly truth when told their 2016 models weren’t going to be certified for sale in the U.S. unless they explained the discrepancies.

The test failures did not happen because of simple oversight or carelessness: this took effort. This was designed failure. And it had to have been known relatively high up the decision chain: the fraud took place over seven model years, involved five models over two different nameplates, and was only broken by researchers checking tested emission levels against road emissions. (Amusingly enough (okay, to me, anyway), Peter Mock (a German!) and John German (an American!) were hoping to demonstrate that diesel cars could run clean. They chose the U.S. models because the U.S. has higher emissions standards. Surprise!*)

This is fraud. Fraud on the consumer, fraud on the public. And, in moral if not legal terms, an assault on the public as well.  Far from being merely aesthetically displeasing, pollutants pose problems for anyone with a breathing condition. Asthma results in 2 million emergency room visits a year.  14 million doctor visits. 3,600 deaths.  Furthermore, asthma affects urban Americans — especially African-Americans — significantly more than rural dwellers (or whites). City residents are exposed to much higher levels of pollutants, a known factor in asthma.

Air pollution is a social justice issue as much or more than an environmental one. Companies with such disdain for the public good deserve to be called out as the oppressors they are.

I can’t even…. process this in any rational manner without starting to froth at the mouth. My ability to think like the other party completely fails. My understanding and empathy collapses under the weight of sickening rage.

I don’t like using the term evil. It gets tossed around too much these days, usually as shorthand for “your firmly held political or religious beliefs are not the same as my firmly held political or religious beliefs.” I try to limit myself to saying that actions are harmful, that beliefs cause problems when applied to people who don’t share them. So I won’t say that this is evil.

But it’s just as bad: it’s amoral. Evil at least has the courage of its blackened, twisted convictions. Amorality has no convictions beyond “the end justifies the means” and “greed is good.” Solipsism — either individual or corporate — is its hallmark.

VW should suffer greatly for this: I have seen people calling for criminal prosecution of the engineers and managers most closely involved. Billions and billions of fines would work for me, too. That’s probably not going to happen. (I’d be happy if the company did not ever do business in the U.S. Or even better, was required to road-test — by a certified third party — Every. Single. Car. they sell here from now on.) I have some hope that the forthcoming civil suits (Hey, L.A.! you’ve got smog problems) will drive the company to bankruptcy, if for no other reason than as an object lesson to other greedy corporate criminals out there, but that probably won’t happen either.


*Actually, a BMW model they used tested the same both in the lab and on the road.

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