Like the Libor of your lungs or the Enron of the environment, the car manufacturers Volkswagen Group (VW) have been caught with their dicks plugging the exhaust. Last week the California Air Resources Board and the Environment Protection Agency revealed that VW have been circumventing the Clean Air Act by poisoning us even more than usual.
The deception was achieved using a “defeat device”, in this case software that recognised when the car was being tested and took action to reduce the volume of nitrogen oxides the car produced. Under normal driving conditions the car would produce 10- 40 times the test level of nitrogen oxides. Pollution from nitrogen oxides is attributed to public health problems across the world and is a major contributing factor to air pollution that causes tens-of-thousands of premature deaths in the UK even year.
The software was installed in approximately 482,000 diesel cars (Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3, Golf and Passat) across the US and 11 million vehicles worldwide. You could be forgiven for saying that VW have blood on their hands and that Europe, with its high proportion of diesel vehicles, is likely to have suffered the most.
Yesterday, the CEO of VW apologised and promised to investigate quickly, thoroughly and as transparently as possible… ironic given that it took 5 whole days to apologise after years of fraud. We’re guessing he only became sincere when he saw the share price plummet along with his job security.
To put things into perspective we’ve put together some other limp and insincere apologies from other scoundrels, how do you think VW compares?
Nick Clegg, 2012 – “I’m Sorry” ft. Tuition Fees
To start out we need a classic of the genre and if you live in the UK it doesn’t really take much looking. This is a story of broken promises, eventual apologies and autotune remixes of said apologies. Let’s refresh our memories; in their 2010 election campaign the Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, famously promised not to raise tuition fees for university students under any circumstances and all 57 Lib Dem MPs elected in 2010 signed the following pledge:
By the end of the year this pledge clearly meant fuck all as only 21 of them voted against trebling fees. This betrayal led to an open hatred of Clegg, who, after a solid two years of thinking decided to apologise.
While the apology seemed sincere, what really sets it apart as being so bad is that, much like the promise they broke, it was ill-advised and effectively set the Lib Dems up as the fall guy for the coalition government. It also alienated the student vote, a major factor in their many crushing election defeats since.
There have also been reports that Clegg was much more willing to hike the fees than he’s ever let on and that all his remorse was false. Whether he was deliberately deceitful, or just naïve, a lot of young people are going to be paying a hefty price for his decisions for many years to come.
There was an upside though, Clegg gave permission for the autotune remix to be released as a single and it raised money for the Children’s Hospital Charity in Sheffield, which it probably needed given the nature of the NHS reforms he help enact since.
Barack Obama, 2014 – “We tortured some folks”
It’s pretty obvious that this apology was a long time coming. As early as 2003 there was open criticism of Guantanamo Bay detention camp in an annual report by Human Rights Watch and the extent to which “folks” were tortured was laid bare by the exposure of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Base. The torture of detainees cemented itself as one of the USA’s worst kept secrets with reports of extraordinary rendition of prisoners through so called CIA black sites (because good capitalists outsource their evil).
What makes this apology seem so hollow is that Obama himself stated his intention to shut Guantanamo in his 2008 presidential campaign, however, the fact that he had to reiterate this at the 2015 state of the union address tells you just how successful he was and how unrepentant the US establishment is. Couple this with drone strikes that kill innocent civilians and make children afraid of blue skies and I’m sure Barack won’t mind if we call bullshit on his “apology”. At least he didn’t get remixed.
ISIS, 2013 – We beheaded the wrong guy
Unsatisfied with healthy, able-bodied victims and run of the mill war crimes, two members of ISIS (which for some reason has been allowed to choose its own nickname!!!) decided to scour a hospital. Being typical ignorant “muslamic infidels”, upon hearing a man utter the names of two important Shiites they were convinced he was an Iraqi Shia militant on the side of President Assad. Here is where we get our lesson in ISIS style justice; it was decided that the only course of action was to behead him immediately and have the trial later.
The mistake, no doubt one of many that these men have made in life, was only realised when someone recognised the head they displayed in their video. The head, and in all likelihood the body, belonged to one Mohammed Fares, a member of Ahrar al-Sham, a group that has fought alongside ISIS against Assad. Another disturbing example of the complexities of the multi-belligerent conflict in Syria and Iraq.
The apology that followed was given for all the wrong reasons and illustrated the ridiculousness of the ISIS ideology better than any outsider ever could. Firstly, they apologised for beheading the wrong guy, not for beheading a guy. Secondly, they used scripture to defend their mistake and in doing so demonstrated how scripture can be used to defend anything if you try hard enough. Finally, in an attempt to smooth things over with other opposition forces they requested “restraint and piety”, thus depleting the world’s stocks of irony.
Now that the apology and embarrassment are over we can relax and marvel at the utopia they have created, safe in the knowledge that they are truly sorry.
Jerry Springer, 1974, 1982, any time he felt he stood to gain from it – Paid for a prostitute… with a cheque
“Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”, bet you weren’t expecting him to feature. Jerry Springer was not always the TV personality who picked apart people’s personal lives for financial and egotistical gain, he was once a politician (zing!).
In 1974, while a member of the Cincinnati City Council, it was revealed that three years earlier Springer had hired a prostitute in Kentucky. He was caught because he had paid with a cheque, which is like an olden times version of PayPal except it’s made of paper and will sit around in a drawer until your favourite brothel gets raided by the feds. Springer resigned, but was re-elected in a landslide in 1975 following a public confession and even went on to become mayor! Apparently the people of Cincinnati appreciate candour.
The realisation that the apology was bullshit occurred slightly later, when Springer was running for the Democrat nomination for Governor of Ohio. Believing that his candour had won him votes previously, he shamelessly wedged his admission into a campaign ad in an attempt to prove he wasn’t afraid of hard truths. Following the confession, Springer claims he’s “not sure what any of this has to do with being governor”, but a lot of people must have disagreed because his campaign failed spectacularly.
Springer lowered himself further in the TV show that made him world famous. A show that exploited people, by getting them to open up and discuss their personal lives on Jerry’s terms and led to the formation of copycat shows the world over. I’m sorry Jerry, if you publically apologise for a transgression in your personal life, shamelessly use that apology in an attempt to gain public office and then build a “holier-than-thou” career on exposing the faults of others on TV, you’re a charlatan.
Tony Hayward (on behalf of BP) 2010 – For Deepwater Horizon and his apology for Deepwater Horizon
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will undoubtedly go down as one of the worst environmental disasters of our time. The rig, which was operated by Transocean on a BP oil prospect, suffered a blowout on 20th April 2010 and the resulting explosions caused the deaths of 11 crew members. The rig sank two days later, leaving a gushing oil well at the bottom of the sea, which took 87 days to plug. The result was extensive damage to many ecosystems, the oil and the chemicals used to disperse it affected the hearts of fish, the eggs of migratory birds and the development of eyes and gills in shellfish.
The majority of the blame was apportioned to BP, with some going to Transocean and other minor partners. Transocean (in spite of their increasingly shit safety record) remained unrepentant, as is typical of many companies in this situation (we’re looking at you Union Carbide), but BP did make an apology through their CEO Tony Hayward. Unfortunately, his choice of words to one reporter left a lot to be desired:
“we’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back.”
Yeah, 11 people killed, an environmental disaster across thousands of miles of ocean and the CEO responsible has the gall to say “I’d like my life back.”!!! Two days later, Hayward, showing himself to be social media savvy, issued an apology for his apology on Facebook. The comments section, which I highly recommend, suggests that it was not well received.
BP eventually replaced Hayward and returned to undermining the welfare of the planet. They clearly weren’t that sorry, but what do you expect from a multinational corporation that presses for the release of convicted mass murderers on the basis that it will push up profit?
As for Hayward, he is currently a non-executive chairman for Glencore, a commodity trading and mining company. Since his appointment, Glencore has acquired licences off the shore of the Moroccan occupied territory Western Sahara, a violation of international law. He must sleep comfortably knowing that he got his life back.