Trial Lawyers

April 14, 2014

Some Republicans tried to justify their vote against equal pay for women by saying that to pass the law would be to “line the pockets of trial lawyers.” That’s a very revealing explanation. 

If corporations did not discriminate against women, then there would be no lawsuits … period. A case without any evidence would get thrown out in an instant. Discrimination exists when the perpetrators can get away with it. Without the ability of an individual to file a lawsuit, no corporation would have an incentive to follow the law. Republicans want you to believe that corporations will voluntarily not discriminate anymore, and refuse to allow the ability of anyone to discover if any discrimination exists. 

The use of “trial lawyers” is a popular rhetorical tool of Republicans, but the equal pay law and the GM recalls of their cars with fatal defects are good examples of what we do as trial lawyers. GM knew about the defects years ago — before many people were killed because of them. GM did nothing to protect lives. They protected themselves, or rather their profits. The government agency charged with identifying those safety hazards didn’t discover the defects because (apparently) the deaths of dozens of people was below their radar. So much for over-regulation. 

It was a trial lawyer taking depositions in a lawsuit that not only uncovered the defect in GM cars, but also the cover-up of the defect. Thanks to a trial lawyer, lives will be saved and justice can be done for the victims. It is a textbook example of how trial lawyers protect society and your rights. This offends Republicans. 

Republicans want to argue that there are already laws against discrimination, but they want to make it impossible to discover the discrimination, nearly impossible to get a day in court and impose government limits on the amount of money anyone could recover no matter what the evidence is. As a person who has devoted his life to helping defend the rights of individuals against the wealthy and powerful, I understand why the right wing nuts attack my profession. We are the last resort of people like you when the powerful victimize. 


Equal Pay

April 14, 2014

You couldn’t ask for a clearer contrast between the “family values” of Republicans and those of the Democrats. The vote on equal pay for women was blocked by Republicans — every single Republican voted against it. Terri Lynn Land, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate to replace Carl Levin, chimed in with agreement with her fellow Republicans that women aren’t really interested in getting paid the same for the same work. You would think that a woman might have a hard time justifying a policy to allow discrimination against women, but apparently not a Republican woman.

As a father of two boys and a girl, I can’t imagine advocating a policy that punishes my daughter just because she is a girl. I wonder how ANY woman could remain a Republican after such a disgraceful vote. However, I can’t honestly discern if Republicans are conducting an ideological war against women, or if the issue is simply one where all Republican policies are subservient to protecting corporate America. 

Sure, Republicans have been the party to deny the right of women to choose what happens to their own bodies. The party of “small government” has proposed all kinds of government intrusions into the personal lives and bodies of women — even to the point of mandating government vaginal exams of pregnant women, and prohibiting reimbursement for contraceptives. The refusal to support equal pay for women might seem to be another extension of their “war on women.” But when you look at the big picture, the issue is less about discriminating against women as it is about protecting corporations. More than anything else, Republicans are all about protecting the profits of corporations and billionaires. Five Supreme Court Justices are possibly the only five people in the world who don’t understand the role of money in politics and power. The Ryan Budget just passed by the House of Representatives is essentially the declaration of GOP policy: take from the poor and give to the rich. 

The defeat of the equal pay law should be a warning to every American, female or male, that the agenda of the Republican Party is to turn the U.S. into a Third World economy where impoverished workers serve the goal of corporate profits. Resisting raising the minimum wage, equal pay, blocking unemployment benefits, Tort Reform … asking how any given law will affect corporate profits can explain 99 percent of all Republican policy. The Ryan Budget declares it loud and clear. In that sense, I suppose, the Republicans can legitimately argue that they are not prejudiced in favor of either gender: both should face equal injustice. 


It’s Official: American Democracy in Critical Condition

April 8, 2014

A government “of the money, for the money and by the money”… the Roberts Supreme Court once again ignored legal precedent and ruled to eliminate any campaign spending limits on individuals. Justice Thomas even went out of his way to write an opinion advocating for eliminating ANY restrictions on money. Their rationale (if one could even suggest there was any rationality) was that money given for political campaigns was free speech and protected by the Constitution. I agree with many analysts that this ruling paves the way for the destruction of the American electoral system. This is not hyperbole. 

We may all share the right of free speech, but at what point does the “speech” of the .0001% extinguishes the speech of the 99%? What if … the Koch brothers decided to buy up every minute of media advertizing in a campaign for their candidate because they can afford it? Doesn’t that restrict (if not eliminate) the speech of the other candidate and their supporters? What if Sheldon Adelson decided that he would spend .001% of his wealth to bankroll every single election in a given state to the point where no opposing candidate could compete? I guess he could rename the state after himself afterwards. When does “free speech” simply become bribery?

President Obama and Mitt Romney each spent about $1 billion in the last campaign. Since that campaign ended, the Koch brothers’ industries have profited over $12 billion, thanks in part to tax law changes and government contracts awarded to them. It would make good business sense for them to take $6 billion of that profit to overwhelm the next campaign for president and congress. Bye-bye EPA … bye-bye NLRB … bye-bye any obstacle to unbridled profits for them. 

The immediate effect of the Court’s ruling will be to change the fundamental nature of political elections: from now on candidates for elections will be pre-determined NOT by their ideas or principles, but by their capacity to get funding. That means a very few individuals in this country will determine who will be nominated and ultimately, who will be elected.   


Project 22

April 2, 2014

I believe that we have a special obligation to veterans and that as a country we are failing in that obligation. No matter what our politics or our beliefs about the legitimacy or morality of the Iraq and Afghan wars, young men and women have risked their lives to serve our country. Over 5,269 of these young heroes have paid the ultimate price since 2001. Many more have suffered crippling wounds, some of which are not always evident after multiple deployments to a war zone that has no boundaries of safety.  

It is estimated that over 30% of those who have served and survived in the Iraq-Afghan theaters suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Medical science is only now beginning to explain the neurochemical changes in brain structure and function that create the symptoms of PTSD, but that is small consolation to the families of veterans who have to continue to live with a brain that is still in combat years after they return. 

One of the fatal symptoms of PTSD is suicide, and we are currently experiencing an epidemic of veterans dying from suicide. Every day 22 veterans commit suicide. Every day. In the 13 years that we have been in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan we have averaged an 1 combat death per day. The truth is that if the media reported that 23 Americans a day are dying from combat-related wounds, then maybe a few more Americans would take notice and force Congress to do something. 

Project 22 is an effort by Iraq-Afghanistan veterans to increase awareness and support for medical services and outreach to returning veterans. They can get nowhere in Congress, due to House GOP resistance to funding, so they are asking President Obama to sign an executive order prioritizing the issue of preventing suicides among veterans. I think we should all send a message to the White House asking for this executive order. 

It is the least we can do.        


Supreme What?

April 1, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case of a company owned by “religious” people who claim that being forced to provide birth control as part of standard medical coverage is violating their company’s “religious rights.” There is a lot at stake in the outcome, not just for “Obamacare.” At the root of the issue is whether or not corporations have the right to practice religion and therefore be exempt from, well, from virtually any employment law. It is the same insane line of rationalization that was the basis for the disastrous “Citizen’s United” ruling. Based on reports of the oral arguments, the predictable has prevailed: women justices have had to not only examine the litigants, but also had to school the male justices on what contraception is and how they work. Also predictable was Justice Scalia, who never fails to hide his biases or hypocrisy. 

Even though Justice Scalia formerly wrote a key decision on a case not allowing American Indians to practice ritual use of peyote saying their religious rights did not trump the law, he now indicates that he is willing to ignore his own precedent and allow corporations to practice religion — meaning forcing employees to accept their religious beliefs. The women justices, having educated their male counterparts on the medical uses and mechanism of contraceptives, went on to point out that various religions ban many essential medical procedures, such as transfusions, and questioned the obvious absurdity of how a non-living thing such as a corporation can “practice religion.” Some religious beliefs prohibit integration of races. In fact, there have been volumes written about absurd and unhealthy religious beliefs. 

Even with precedents and common sense on the side of ruling against a corporation’s right to impose religion on employees, it appears to be a close call. After all, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and Roberts have never hesitated to ignore precedent or common sense to meet their ideological agenda. Do we have a Supreme Court or a Supreme Fraud? We shall see soon enough.  


On Being Right

March 28, 2014

Gov. Snyder looked just as he should have in the press conference: like a man walking a razor blade between his conscience and Tea Party mobs. In declaring that gay couples who were married this past week were legally married and then announcing that as far as the state was concerned they were not married, he tried to walk that thin line between conscience and political survival. It was an act of tepid courage and reflexive cowardice: like sticking a toe in the water and back out again. 

Of course people should be free to marry whomever they want. It is one of those “inherent rights” that organized religion has not let go of yet – but reality has a way of intruding into life, even into the lives of the religious right. They use “laws” to enforce their religious dogma, but these are not laws intended to preserve liberty. Like most laws that codify prejudice, the laws on marriages are starting to catch up with society. What happens when a society ignores religious leaders and laws restricting liberties? Good things, usually.

First, they opposed inter-denominational marriages, forcing people for generations to violate their spiritual conscience to realize a loving relationship. Until the men at the top realized that society was ignoring them and marrying across denominations anyways. It turns out that a Catholic marrying a Lutheran would not destroy the family as an institution, as predicted. Then they forbade inter-racial marriages, until again they noticed that society was ignoring them again and, once again, the institution of family was not destroyed. Now comes marriages between same sex couples and… well, society has done it again – forcing bad laws to change.

I wonder what happened to political leaders who did what was right and bent the “arc of justice”? Kennedy sent troops to protect children integrating schools (another outcome opposed by “religious” men). Lyndon Johnson was no saint, but he passed the very unpopular and politically risky Civil Rights Bill. These days, political leadership is in the hands of (predominantly) men who know what is right, but choose to take the safe course, as if there was more honor in being re-elected than right.

But watch out Gov. Snyder, conscience is a persistent muse.

Planes, Trains and Impassable Roads

March 25, 2014

Anyone who travels on Michigan roads knows that many of them are virtually impassable without using extraordinary vigilance and Formula One-level steering ability. Major surface streets, such as Telegraph Road and Woodward Avenue have innumerable potholes, with many of them more than a foot deep. Maybe, just maybe, we can see the light at the end of the wheel-bending tunnel.

Now that Republican lawmakers in Lansing are finished with the important business of passing laws like requiring citizens to fly American flags only made in the U.S., they seem ready to act on Gov. Snyder’s pleas to fund road repairs at a meaningful level. I can only guess that the roads near Grand Rapids are just as bad and that the insurance companies are writing too many checks for damaged cars as the precipitant, but better a good change for bad reasons than not at all.

One potential pothole to funding road repairs is that the budget surplus of nearly $1 billion is not nearly enough to repair all roads and bridges. It would take nearly $10 billion to do the job, an estimate nearly everyone agrees is accurate. For once, Republicans are forced to admit that an essential government function (i.e. infrastructure) requires taxation. They have ignored the need for more taxes to fund road repairs so long that the roads are becoming impassable. Funding for public transportation is out of the question for Republicans as an alternative. So they have to raise a tax.

It would make sense to make high-volume, heavy vehicle corporate users and more taxation of upper level incomes to pay for much of the repairs, but then again that would make sense. Their idea: make the poor pay for it with higher gas taxes.

Go figure …


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