P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism

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Saturday, November 23, 2002
 
Another Interesting Idea About Taxes

William Burton has an interesting tax plan here. The Burton Tax Plan (that is William not Dan) would result in a more progressive tax structure for individuals and a much simpler tax code. While we cannot say we agree with the entire plan, it is very interesting. You do not beat something with nothing and the Burton Tax Plan is a far better idea than just conceding the tax issue to the right.

Friday, November 22, 2002
 
Missing Class Can be Costly

Any discussion of tort reform inevitably turns to reports of allegedly absurd settlements or judgments in favor of plaintiffs. Stories abound of awards of millions of dollars against companies that did nothing wrong in favor of plaintiffs who suffered little or no injury.

One example that is used over and over again to promote tort reform is the case involving burns suffered from spilled coffee purchased at McDonalds. Charles Kuffner of Off The Kuff goes beyond the sound bite to analyze the actual basis and merits of the suit. It came as no surprise to us that his conclusion was not only that the plaintiff’s suit had merit but also that McDonald’s conduct richly deserved censure. The only frivolous argument we find in that story is the myth that the suit itself was somehow baseless.

Charles also links to this story to show that the McDonald’s coffee story is not the only tort reform myth:
Huge punitive damage awards, for example, have become everyday events, right? Actually, a study of courts in the nation's 75 largest counties conducted by the National Center for State Courts found that only 364 of 762,000 cases ended in punitive damages, or 0.047 percent.

OK, but isn't it true that more and more liability claims are filed every year? Actually, a study of 16 states by the same center showed that the number of liability suits has declined by 9 percent since 1986.

We have made our living as a lawyer for nearly our entire adult life. We have represented both plaintiffs and defendants. The monetary stakes in the cases we have handled have ranged from relatively low to eight figures. We have never seen a case in which a frivolous suit resulted in any substantial payment to a plaintiff either by settlement or judgment.

That is not to say that no parties or lawyers ever take frivolous positions. We have seen many such positions taken by both plaintiffs and defendants. In our experience, frivolous positions are simply losers. We often tell clients that we will not argue positions that are not well founded in both law and fact. If our best arguments fail, we ask, why do you think our worst arguments will succeed?

In Georgia, at least, taking frivolous positions has a substantial downside. There are a large number of cases in which the filing of a frivolous suit resulted not in a substantial recovery but rather in substantial sanctions being imposed against the lawyer, the plaintiff or both.

Nonetheless, we keep hearing that insurance companies and businesses pay out million dollar settlements and verdicts in frivolous cases. That sounds pretty good. The normal contingency fee is 33%-40% of the recovery. With a couple of those suits, we could buy the kids some new shoes.

We have, therefore, searched high and low for the list of companies that pay out millions of dollars for frivolous claims. We must have missed class in law school on the day that list was handed out.


Update: Jeff Cooper discusses Liebeck v. McDonalds as well.


 
An Excellent Essay


Jeanne D’Arc of Body and Soul recently noted that there are a number of female bloggers who do not receive the attention they deserve. Jeanne suggests that those women write just as well as many men and have important insights due to their life experience but that they receive significantly less attention.

One such writer is Julia at Sisyphus Shrugged. Today, Julia writes an excellent essay about blogging and community. Please read it.



 
Making the Tax Issue Work For Democrats

Tapped points us to this The American Prospect article by former Commerce Secretary Robert Reich. Reich advocates implementing a two-year moratorium on payroll taxes for the first $20,000 of income. He further advocates paying for the cut by repealing Bush’s proposed permanent elimination of the estate tax.

That proposal has several beneficial effects. First, it rapidly gets money into the hands of people who will spend it, thereby stimulating the economy. Secondly, it helps make the overall tax structure more progressive.

Third, Reich argues that it also puts the Republicans into a box on the tax issue.
Republicans love forcing Democrats to vote for or against tax cuts. It puts Democrats into a Republican box. Bush did it last year and it worked. But having lost both houses of Congress, Democrats should have learned their lesson. Avoid the Republican box. Instead, force Republicans into a Democratic box. Make them choose between a payroll tax cut for more than 130 million American working families, worth about $5,000 to each family, or a tax cut for the richest 2 percent of American families, worth millions to each of their do-nothing kids. If Republicans are too dumb to choose a payroll tax cut over an estate tax cut, Democrats should blast them. Use it as ammo for 2004. Make it a central part of the Democratic message. Yell about it on television, radio. Bellow about it from rooftops…

Framing it as a choice between the two cuts also serves a larger purpose. It draws public attention to the scandal of the widening gap of income and wealth in America over the past two decades. After-tax incomes of the top 1 percent of American families have risen more than 150 percent, while the vast majority of families in the middle have barely gained ground. America hasn't experienced this degree of inequality in more than 80 years…

The choice between the two tax cuts also shows which party favors people who work for a living. The payroll tax penalizes work; cutting it rewards work. By contrast, the estate tax was enacted to prevent family dynasties whose heirs would never need to work. Cutting the estate tax rewards idleness.

So there you have it: a clear choice that speaks volumes. Democrats had no message in 2002 and paid the price. Bush had a tax cut and a war on terrorism. You can't fight something with nothing. If Democrats want to win back at least one chamber of Congress and have a fair chance of regaining the White House two years from now, they'll have to fashion a tough but humane foreign policy and a plan to get the economy moving. Most importantly, they'll need to remind Americans what's at stake: a democratic society that offers the world a model of equity and opportunity or one that's run by and for the people at the top. Some choice.

We think that is an interesting idea that deserves serious consideration.


Thursday, November 21, 2002
 
Mistaken Identity

Al Gore has returned to the public stage. First, he gave a speech in San Francisco in which he offered some criticisms of the administration’s foreign policy. Then he gave a speech in which he outlined his preferred economic policy. Finally, last week he embarked on a book tour that included media events and a Barbara Walters interview.

After his recent media rounds, it was apparent to the media, if no one else (other than GOP partisans), that Al Gore was trying to reinvent himself once again. Bob Somerby quotes Mort Kondrake as saying:

Al Gore has announced the new, new, new, new, new, new, new Al Gore is going to let it rip and say what he really, really, truly feels.


Please note that Kondrake’s assessment has absolutely nothing to do with Gore’s position on any matter of public policy.

Commentators were quick to accuse Al Gore of having shifted positions after his Iraq/Terrorism speech. In order to make that charge, the media had to intentionally or negligently misread Gore’s position from a decade earlier and engage in a little creative videotape editing. See the Daily Howler here.

Generally, however, the media do not focus on whether or not Gore changed positions on matters of public policy before they accuse him of reinventing himself. If he changes clothes, it is a new version of Al Gore. If he grows a beard while on vacation, it is a troubling sign that he does not know who he is. If he jokes about the 2000 election, it shows that he is a bitter, bitter man.

The recent attacks on Gore are a continuation of the media’s efforts during the 2000 campaign. The media fit everything Al Gore did or said into nice prepackaged formulas. Those formulas included that Al Gore was a liar who “would do anything to win,” and that Al Gore did not “know who he was” as shown by his efforts to “reinvent himself.”

Thus, the media established consistency and truthfulness as the criteria for measuring a presidential candidate. If a candidate does not tell the truth, he or she has a character flaw that should disqualify them from the Presidency. Similarly, by the media’s criteria, the shifting of positions and “reinventing” of oneself is a character flaw that should disqualify a person from office.

One might presume that, having established those criteria during the campaign, the media would hold President Bush to the same standards.


We demonstrated here that Mr. Bush has only an occasional relationship with the truth. We now look to see if Mr. Bush has exhibited the consistency of position that the media required of Al Gore in the 2000 campaign. Consider the following:

Compassionate Conservative vs. Reformer with Results

George W. Bush was a “Compassionate Conservative” in New Hampshire during the campaign. After John McCain won the New Hampshire primary with a reform message, Mr. Bush emerged by the South Carolina primary as a “Reformer with Results.” The media felt no need to peer into Bush’s psyche to determine why he changed position. Why did the media not apply the same standard to Al Gore?

Homeland Security Department

After 9/11, President Bush proposed an Office of Homeland Security that had little staff, and no operational or budgetary control. Democrats including Senator Bob Graham and Senator Joe Lieberman proposed a cabinet level agency with both operational and budgetary control. Bush killed Democratic bills in the House and Senate that would have established such a Homeland Security Department.

Once FBI agent Rowley got headlines testifying about breakdowns in Homeland Security, Bush did an about-face. He proposed what he had, before the Rowley testimony, adamantly opposed.

After flip-flopping, Mr. Bush accused Democrats of not being concerned with the security of the American people. As Bush had opposed such a department from 9/11 through early June 2002, presumably he included himself in that indictment.

The media, instead of wondering whether Mr. Bush was “reinventing himself,” simply threw all mention of the fact that Bush had opposed the creation of such a department down the memory hole. Why is that?

Osama bin Laden

In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush did his best Wyatt Earp imitation. He declared that he would get bin Laden “dead or alive.”

Many hoped that bin Laden had died in the bombings at Tora Bora. Unfortunately, bin Laden has recently reemerged by means of an audiotape. Authorities have verified that the tape is bin Laden and the recent events discussed on the tape make clear that he escaped Tora Bora.

As for Wyatt Earp, he now says that it “really doesn’t matter much” if bin Laden is dead. Now that bin Laden has escaped, Mr. Bush says, “I don’t spend that much time on him…to be honest with you.” Mr. Bush went on to say that he “was not that concerned with” bin Laden.

Mr. Bush’s waning interest in the man who killed almost 3,000 Americans is of less interest to the media than whether or not Al Gore grew a beard on vacation. Why is that?

Free Trade

Mr. Bush bills himself as a staunch supporter of free trade. Mr. Bush has said that he has “a fundamental commitment to free trade as an engine of economic growth.” When an issue concerning steel imports arose, however, Mr. Bush smelled votes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. He then flip-flopped on free trade and became a protectionist. That is, he sought to protect his chances for reelection.

Similarly, Mr. Bush could have backed free trade and helped Pakistan (an alleged key ally in the war on terror) by eliminating restrictions on imports of Pakistani textiles. The Republicans, however, had open Senate seats in the textile centers of North and South Carolina. Mr. Bush flip-flopped away from his free trade position to take a protectionist position with regard to textiles.

During the 2000 campaign, Gore was smeared with the charge that he “would do anything to win” the Presidency. The media failed to wonder if Mr. Bush’s flip-flops on free trade to gain political advantage mean that “he will do anything to win” reelection. Why is that?

Disarmament vs. Regime Change

For months the administration made clear that its policy towards Iraq was founded on “regime change.” In early September of this year, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press. In that interview, the following exchange occurred:

MR. RUSSERT: But what’s your goal? Disarmament or regime change?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: The president’s made it clear that the goal of the United States is regime change. He said that on many occasions.

The President’s policy now seems to have changed to one of disarmament. As Mr. Bush said at a press conference:
The resolution is a disarmament resolution. That's what it is. It's a statement of intent to once and for all disarm Saddam Hussein... And it's now time for the world come together and disarm him. And when this resolution passes, I will -- we'll be able to say that the United Nations has recognized the threat and now we're going to work together to disarm him.

There was no talk of regime change. That is a change of which we approve. It is nonetheless a fundamental shift in position.

Mr. Bush fudged the change in position by saying that if Iraq disarmed then the regime would be changed. If Al Gore changes clothes, the media opine that it shows some deep psychological trouble. If George Bush changes policy on Iraq and uses weasel words to try to deny that he shifted policy, the media barely mention the flip-flop at all. Why is that?

Carbon dioxide emissions

During the campaign, Bush took a strong position in favor of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. His campaign position was more environmentally friendly than Al Gore’s position. Once in office, he overrode his EPA administrator and refused to act to reduce those emissions. Why is that change on a fundamental issue of environmental policy less troubling to the press core than Al Gore’s wardrobe?

Corporate Scandals

With the collapse of Enron and WorldCom, the issue of corporate responsibility came to the forefront. Democrats were scoring some political points by painting the Bush administration as being too close to corporate America. Mr. Bush responded by announcing his get tough on corporate abuse policy.

Here is part of what Mr. Bush said when signing the Sarbanes-Oxley bill:
This new law sends very clear messages that all concerned must heed. This law says to every dishonest corporate leader: you will be exposed and punished; the era of low standards and false profits is over; no boardroom in America is above or beyond the law…

Corporate misdeeds will be found and will be punished. This law authorizes new funding for investigators and technology at the Securities and Exchange Commission to uncover wrongdoing. The SEC will now have the administrative authority to bar dishonest directors and officers from ever again serving in positions of corporate responsibility …

Shortly thereafter, however, The New York Times reported that the White House now opposes the increased funding of the SEC called for under Sarbanes-Oxley.
Mr. Bush is entitled to change his mind about policy. Is it too much to ask, however, for the media to pay as much attention to that issue as to the bogus accusation that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet?

North Korea and Inspections

North Korea recently acknowledged that it had a nuclear weapons program. The administration insisted that North Korea’s program be subject to international inspections. The media reported that the:

White House has remained firm on the issue, arguing that it is necessary for Pyongyang to allow the inspections before critical work continues on the light water reactor.


The White House, however, has not “remained firm” on that issue. In April of 2002, the Bush administration released $95 million of aid to North Korea. According to the BBC:
In releasing the funding, President George W Bush waived the Framework's requirement that North Korea allow inspectors to ensure it has not hidden away any weapons-grade plutonium from the original reactors.
President Bush argued that the decision was "vital to the national security interests of the United States".

The media did not think that Bush’s certification that it was in the vital security interest of the United States to waive inspections of North Korea’s nuclear program was as important as calling Al Gore a liar for his perfectly accurate statement that, as a boy in Tennessee, he had plowed a hillside. Why is that?

Conclusion

In one respect, the media’s coverage of the 2000 campaign was spot on. One candidate really does have a problem telling the truth and is constantly reinventing himself. There was just one little problem of mistaken identity.


 
That Is Also Why We Read Atrios

ABC television network is running a promotional ad for a made for TV movie about the Pennsylvania miners who were rescued earlier this year. The tag line of the ad says, "You saw it on the news, now see how it really was." No more need be said about ABC's opinion of its news department.


Tuesday, November 19, 2002
 
More Thimerosal and Autism

Dominion's review of the science involving thimerosal and autism is posted here. It is well worth reading.

Dominion's review of the science leads him to the conclusion that we simply do not know if thimerosal causes autism. That is our reading of the literature as well.

Dominion also tracks Lilly's knowledge of the dangers of thimerosal dating from the 1940s. Those documents are hard to square with Lilly's public position that thimerosal is safe. Lilly should have to explain itself but, of course, it will not now be required to do so.

Dominion expresses skepticism that future research will be conducted to conclusively determine if a causal link between autism and thimerosal exists. He is probably right since politics has invaded the scientific debate. Further research funding seems less likely now given that thimerosal is no longer used in childhood vaccines and since the litigation will now be slowed or stopped. To the extent that you have heard that a deal was reached in which the liability restriction would be revisited next year, please read the latest post at Wampum. A deal was reached to revisit the issue but the terms of the deal began getting fuzzy as soon as the Republican moderates cast their votes.

We have little hope that the Republican majority, having passed the recent political pressure point, will offend a major campaign contributor on behalf of autistic kids. Good relations with big campaign contributors count for a lot. Autistic kids do not.

On a more optimistic note, autism and the causes of autism have received much public attention in the last few days. Perhaps the autism community can use that public awareness to squeeze out a little more money for research into genetic causes or other areas that do not offend campaign contributors. We hope so.

Many of you have written to us to express sympathy and concern. Thanks to each and every one of you. Your kindness is greatly appreciated.

This is the last post we will be writing on autism for a while. Our recent posts have not been very much fun for us. Fun is the only reward for blogging. We will be back in a day or two writing on politics or something that is a little more removed from the challenges of our daily life.


 
Homeland Security Bill Passes


The Homeland Security Bill passed the Senate today after efforts of Democrats to strip it of special interest provisions failed. We hope that the bill will make us safer from terrorists. The Republican Party should be ashamed of itself.