The Terrorists Won

July 31, 2014

The U.S. is about to release the Senate report on the use of torture on prisoners during the Bush Administration. Although previously classified, the redacted report is expected to conclude that no significant intelligence was obtained through brutally torturing prisoners. I am sure some Americans who saw “Zero Dark Thirty” will insist that torture was effective, and war criminals such as Dick Cheney will insist that torture was not only effective – it was fun!

The reality is that the moment we began to torture prisoners was the day the terrorists won. They beat us. They accomplished their mission of transforming America and destroying whatever moral argument we retained. The moment we began to torture prisoners, we became no better than the terrorists.

The fear of terrorists was exactly what they wanted … fear so blinding that we ignored international laws, our own laws and began to willingly forfeit our Constitutional rights. They didn’t take our rights or our character – we gave it away. When we should have been less afraid of another 9/11 than of our response to that fear, we lost our perspective and lost the “war.”

The Senate report on torture is just another reminder of that defeat.

Why You Need a Lawyer When Doctors Make Mistakes

July 22, 2014

Every year more Americans are killed by medical mistakes than died in the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and both Iraq wars, combined. Deaths by medical mistakes are estimated to be as low as 90,000, and as high as 440,000 EVERY YEAR according to independent studies from organizations such as The Journal of Patient Safety. 

Medical malpractice is the third largest contributor to deaths in America. The vast majority of these mistakes are totally preventable, and the vast majority are never admitted to patients or their loved ones. People are convinced that there are far too many med-mal lawsuits, but the truth is that if only half the deaths caused by medical negligence were to result in lawsuits, then the rate of lawsuits would increase 1000%. Only a fraction of victims ever have a chance for justice.

The truth is that hospitals almost never admit their mistakes because they want to avoid taking responsibility. Often it’s not the doctors or nurses who refuse to admit mistakes, or try to cover up their mistakes. Many of these individuals are good people who were negligent for various reasons, including being overworked, tired or simply diverted. Some of them are incompetent, but most are not. Rather, it is hospital administrators and insurance carriers who are guilty of denying victims justice. For these “bean counters” the issue is not patient care or safety – it is the bottom line… profits. Just like G.M. 

It is not just a matter of doctors and nurses staying silent, or looking the other way. Records are changed or destroyed; families are misinformed about the circumstances of the death. When a patient dies or when a patient who was harmed by an act of malpractice request medical records, it triggers a review by “risk managers” – people employed by hospitals to short-circuit lawsuits. Their entire focus is on denying victims justice, although they would say they help avoid “frivolous lawsuits.” I have been involved in numerous cases of med-mal where records were changed after the fact to deceive the victims.    

It is a rare situation when a doctor or nurse is incompetent or deliberately harms a patient, but it is not a rare circumstance when hospital administrators or insurance companies hide the negligence. This is why when an unexpected or catastrophic outcome results from a medical procedure, you need legal representation. Most patients or their families don’t know their rights or understand the process. I do, and it is my job to protect you. 

The Private Sector

July 20, 2014

For decades the Michigan Department of Corrections, one of the largest prison industries in the world, successfully fed inmates. State employees were well trained not only on how to cook and serve food safely, but how to work safely around some dangerous people.

Then Republicans in the Michigan Legislature, stupid from drinking their own ideological Kool-Aid, decided that the “private sector” could do the job better and more economically. They decided to fire thousands of well trained state workers and took bids from private companies. Aramark, the giant food service company based in Philadelphia, got the job by promising to feed prisoners for around $2.00 a meal, only slightly less than what the state was already paying. Never mind that Aramark was riddled with scandals from their contracts with other states (for example, they were kicked out of Florida), Michigan Republicans were on a mission.

Now it seems obvious that the private sector solution is a costly failure. Ararmark employees have been caught smuggling drugs, providing sex and generally serving unsanitary and inedible meals. The situation is so bad that corrections officers have been warning about the real possibility of riots. It turns out that maybe the government does provide some services more efficiently, except now those trained workers have moved on to other jobs or other states. It would cost a fortune to retrain a workforce, but less costly than to try to revive the Aramark private sector experiment.

On the other hand, maybe the private sector does have a lesson for us in this latest fiasco. When a supervisor makes such a monumental mistake costing their company as much money as this has, the supervisor is fired for their incompetence. Maybe Michigan Republicans should be held to their own standards.

Birth “Trauma”

July 18, 2014

One of the more difficult types of cases that I handle is the result of medical negligence that leads to a child being injured during birth. It is a gut-wrenching situation when a baby is injured for life, and it affects the lives of their entire family. Many of these children suffer from brain injuries that render them unable to do even the most basic tasks, such as walking or communicating. These are the most extreme cases (short of the child dying), while many children are less seriously injured and are diagnosed with the nebulous term “cerebral palsy.”

Most parents don’t realize that their child has been damaged until much later in life when the child begins to fall farther and farther behind on developmental milestones. In fact, some people argue that “cerebral palsy” is a diagnosis developed to cover-up birth trauma. It implies no known cause and no defined set of symptoms, unlike virtually any other medical diagnosis. The sad reality is that many, if not most, cases of cerebral palsy are 100% predictable and 100% preventable.

If a baby has a normal development in utero there are very few causes for trauma during birth other than medical negligence. In most of the cases, the distress of the child during birth is clearly evident on fetal monitor strips, and it is either a person not paying attention or just plain incompetent who allows the baby to suffer and be injured. In other cases, the mother presents a known risk during labor which is unrecognized or ignored. It breaks your heart to realize that a child was injured for life and will suffer because of medical malpractice.

Although these children are often terribly injured, they are often loved and cared for through the heroic efforts of their parents. In an otherwise terribly sad situation, I am reassured and inspired by the examples of love that are beyond my understanding. It motivates me even more to try and lessen the burden of the parents and the suffering of the child by getting them justice. It is the most difficult, and at the same time, rewarding case I do.

Crisis at the Border

July 10, 2014

The flood of women and children creating the crisis at the Texas border is not an immigration problem. It is a refugee problem. These children are fleeing countries where there is no rule of law, countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

The murder rate in these countries is more akin to a war zone like Syria, which is probably a valid analogy. Like any refugee crisis in any country, they are taxing local resources and the solution requires humanitarian and political efforts. And it’s only right that we do provide humanitarian assistance. These are countries that past U.S. Presidents deliberately destabilized. Remember the death squads Reagan secretly funded in El Salvador and Nicaragua? We sabotaged the legitimate political process in these countries because we didn’t like their politics. This left most Latin American countries hostage to those with the most guns, and today that means drug cartels. 

We should help these children because we helped cause the problems they are fleeing from and because it is the moral thing to do. The immoral thing to do is make them pawns in a cynical political war, or to fan the flames of hatred. Who could look at the scene of the protesters in Texas stopping busses full of terrified children and listen to the hatred spewing from their mouths and not feel ashamed for our country? Apparently, plenty of people who call themselves “patriots” and “Texans.”

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

July 9, 2014

Some of you may remember the old Monty Python skit. A man is being given the third degree about something minor when, out of exasperation, he says “Well, I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!” Then suddenly a group of men dressed in red cleric robes burst through the door and says “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

Well, life imitates art sometimes and here we are with the Catholics on the Supreme Court enforcing their religious beliefs on all Americans in the Hobby Lobby case. Make no mistake, the Catholic Church bans the use of contraceptives and the Conservative men on the Supreme Court are intent on enforcing their church’s doctrine in law — so much for separation of church and state.

Justice Scalia has made no secret of his opinion that his religious beliefs should directly affect his rulings, though the other Catholic men are a bit more circumspect.

The Hobby Lobby decision was wrong on many levels and the logic so obviously contrary – and dangerous – to virtually any laws banning discrimination, that Alito went out of his way to say that the decision was a one-time, limited decision (remember Bush v. Gore?). Conservatives hailed the decision as a blow for religious freedom.

The owners of Hobby Lobby consider forms of contraceptives that terminate conception as violating their religious rights so egregiously that it made it an irresolvable crisis of conscience (although they did invest their tax shelter profits in companies that make the “abortion pill”). Historically, religious beliefs have been the rationale for Jim Crow laws and discrimination against any number of groups (including Catholics). That is why allowing one religious group to discriminate is so dangerous.

The truth is that the Catholic men of the Supreme Court are better described as Ayatollahs issuing religious rulings on secular political matters. They ignore the Constitutional mandate separating church from state, let alone legal precedent.

Unlike the Monty Python skit, this is no comedy.