The Ugly and GREEDY Truth about Medical Tort Reform

Many people will remember a very famous lawsuit against McDonald’s restaurants in 1994.  That case, known as Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, involved 79-year-old Stella Liebeck, who sued McDonald’s after spilling scalding (190 degree F/88 degree C) coffee into her lap, causing severe 3rd degree burns to her inner thighs and genital area.  She required major reconstructive surgery.

Liebeck won that medical tort lawsuit, which in common-law terms is defined as lawsuit brought by someone who has been wronged in some way by another person or entity.  The lawsuit is heard in civil court in the USA, because the seventh amendment to the US constitution guarantees every citizen a common law (a.k.a, civil law) trial by jury.  The jury is thus trusted to deliberate a fair verdict.  If the jury finds the defendant in a civil case guilty, the jury is also trusted to render a fair award for the plaintiff, based upon the facts of the case.

In Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, the jury awarded Liebeck $2.86 million dollars in both tangible and punitive damages.  That amount was based upon only 2 days worth of McDonald’s revenues from their coffee sales.  The judge subsequently reduced the award to $640,000.  Both parties appealed, but then settled for an undisclosed amount before the appeal was decided.

At about the same time in Texas, then-governor George W. Bush and his GOP cronies passed tort reform in Texas, which severely capped tort monetary awards.  The GOP state legislators were heavily supported and lobbied by “Corporate America”‘s best friend, the US Chamber of Commerce.

The US Chamber of Commerce’s sole reason for existence is to make life for big business as unregulated, easy, tax-free and protected as possible.  It’s membership is primarily made up of big corporations.  One of its long-standing goals has been to reduce or eliminate business’s financial liability in civil court (tort reform) by lobbying state legislators to pass laws that severely cap a jury’s ability to reward money.  They lobby state legislatures to pass “one size fits all” maximum awards in civil lawsuits against companies and service providers.  This essentially steals away a jury’s ability to determine an appropriate monetary award.

Their motto is “Stop Frivolous Lawsuits!!”, as if a jury couldn’t figure it out for themselves. Yet, these same conservatives allow juries to vote for death penalties in criminal court.

The ultimate purpose of this strategy is to protect business against being held accountable for negligence, incompetence, and/or malfeasance.

The harm tort reform causes an impacted individual is astronomical.  An example is a case where medical incompetence caused severe brain damage in an baby boy just before birth.  As the baby grew, it became clear that he would require life-long care because he could care for himself.  A jury found the doctor involved guilty and awarded $6 million,  which was calculated to be necessary for the boy’s life-long care.  But because of tort reform in Oklahoma, the award was limited to $350,000.

Guess who will have to take care of this severely brain-damaged boy when his parents are gone?  The taxpayers!!!!!!

So much for the GOP’s idea of reducing Medicaid.

The ultra-conservatives in the USA argue that tort reform reduces medical malpractice premiums and thus lowers everyone’s medical expenses.  They used this argument during last year’s health care reform debates.  But a review of medical malpractice insurance premium levels both before and after Texas passed tort reform showed that premiums did not go down at all, but in fact remained the same before and after.  When asked, the insurance companies had no explanation.

The dirty and greedy truth is that Tort reform is about only one thing:  protecting big business’s ability to make more money by hook and crook without accountability – over and over and over.

In fact, big business has even found other ways around civil lawsuits.  Take a close look at the documentation that comes with your credit card, for instance.  You’ll find (in the teenie-weenie print) that even if you have a serious problem, you can’t suit the company…no matter what.  Instead, you must submit to arbitration with an arbitrator who knows who is going to pay him or her (the company, of course).  And arbitration awards are final….no appeal is possible.

In a survey of these arbitrations, it was found that consumers won these perhaps 10% of the time, while the companies won 90% of the time.  Perhaps even worst part, most people didn’t even know that their use of their credit card constituted a waiver of their US constitutional 7th amendment rights!

For the ideologically motivated and horribly misinformed conservatives who make up the bulk of the US republican party, totally FREE ENTERPRISE (i.e., free of financial regulations, safety requirements, child labor laws, environmental responsibility, financial liability and legal accountability….not to mention their fair share of taxation) is good for everyone.

Yeah.  And so is radioactivity.

 

P.S.  Watch the documentary “Hot Coffee“, presently on HBO if you possibly can.  It will astound and inform you.

Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq: the Good, Bad & Ugly

On  June 22nd, 2011, US president Obama delivered a speech announcing the beginning of a draw-down of US troops from Afghanistan.  It’s about time.

Prompted by the Al Qaeda 9-11 attacks on the USA on September 11, 2001 (9-11), American and UK military forces, later known as the coalition, launched a major military action in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and its supporters and Afghan rulers, the fundamentalist Islamist Taliban.  The coalition succeeded in removing the Taliban from power and to a large extent Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, although they failed to definitively locate Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden.

The coalition set up a provisional democracy-oriented government.  American and UK troops continued their task of seeking and engaging remaining Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives.  They also attempted to help the national government extend its reach to local villages throughout Afghanistan.  Those efforts might have succeeded and the coalition’s forces subsequently withdrawn from Afghanistan years ago, if only then-US-president GW Bush hadn’t diverted the necessary resources into an unnecessary, unjustified, and falsely-advertised US military invasion of Iraq.  But Iraq happened and the Afghan war has dragged on for 10 years.  That’s bad.

But GW Bush ordered US troops to invade Iraq in March of 2003, claiming that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  A massive US and allied military force overran Iraq, forced Saddam Hussein into hiding, and installed another provisional government, all the while searching those illusive WMDs.

Every step of Iraq operation was a miscalculation.  The Bush administration predicted that the combat operations would last weeks, that the Iraqis would welcome the US troops as liberators, that Iraq would quickly adapt to democratization, and that the WMDs would be found and removed.

None of that happened.  After 8 years, the USA still has tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, almost 4500 Americans have been killed there; the government is corrupt; insurgent groups are still operating and killing; Al Qaeda has much more influence in the country than under Saddam; and the country is far from united…  And to top it all off the purported WMD’s (Bush’s main invasion selling point) were never foundNot even oneThat’s ugly.

With the advent of the “Arab Spring” which began in December 2010, the populations of one Arab country after another in northern Africa and the Middle East began massive peaceful protest demonstrations against their totalitarian government rulers.  Starting in Tunisia, and then continuing in Egypt, pro-democracy demonstrations ultimately forced their existing rulers to leave and flee.  This activity spread to other countries in the region such as Bahrain and Yemen.  And it spread to Libya, a country that has been no friend to the USA or its allies.

Libya’s long-time dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, was a sponsor of terrorism for a very long time, and although he had recently renounced such activity, both his own people as well the international community had plenty of reason to want him out of power.  After the mostly peaceful and ultimately successful popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan people were motivated into action.  In what began as peaceful protests and demonstrations, the Libyan people demanded democracy and freedom.  But Gadhafi had no intention of allowing any threat to his rule.  He unleashed brutal and deadly force against his own civilian population, ordering his troops to fire upon unarmed civilians in an effort to crush the protesters.

Gadhafi’s brutality, however, had the opposite effect.  The protesters became the organized rebels, and the international community,through NATO launched military action to help the rebels.  However, an operation thought to last only “days” has now dragged on for over three months.  However, because of NATO’s actions, many civilian deaths have been avoided as the Libyan people continue to fight for their rights.  That’s good.

Nonetheless, the US population has now become war-weary after ten long, frustrating years of armed conflict in two countries, in which the USA grossly miscalculated both duration and costs.  Republicans running for president have been especially oppositional.

And much of the US congress has questioned the USA’s role within NATO’s military operation against Gadhafi….with a couple of very remarkable exceptions:

Republican US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Both men stated on Sunday that the USA military assistance to NATO’s Libyan mission should be supported.  In response to ultra-right republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s‘s claim that the USA has “no vital national interest” in Libya, McCain replied that “The fact is our interests are our values.  We don’t want people needlessly slaughtered by the thousands if we can prevent such activity.”

Afghanistan was a justifiable mission gone bad.  Iraq was an unjustifiable mission gone ugly.  But Libya is an ugly situation in which NATO’s help (with US participation) can result in a hell of a lot of good.

On this, McCain is right.  And that’s coming from a liberal.

Is Sex Painful? Ask Anthony Weiner

US congressman Anthony Weiner, democrat from New York City, pit-bull against republican diatribe, defender of the poor, protector of social safety nets, and husband to a very well-respected member of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s staff, resigned his congressional seat today amid almost unanimous and bipartisan pressure to do so.  He resigned despite a poll indicating a majority of his constituents in Queens and Brooklyn, New York wanted him to stay.

Weiner wasn’t afraid to “mix it up” with his republican colleagues when they would make outrageous statements such as during the health care reform debate, or when they blamed the recent economic recession on Obama and the democrats.  Many of his no-nonsense responses to republican tactics were seen in the news particularly after Barack Obama became US president.  These courageous actions on Weiner’s part are some of the the main reasons why Weiner has been elected to the US congress 6 times in a row.  He was one of the most effective democratic congressmen serving in the House of Representatives.

Weiner married Huma Abedin in July 2010.  However, it appears that Weiner had been engaging in on-line “social networking socialization” with numerous women for some time before his wedding.  That activity did not stop after he wed Abedin.

On-line intimate, sexually enticing activity is nothing new.  Long before the advent of today’s’ social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, folks were involved in this activity.  It’s been going on at least since computers became common household items in the 1980’s.  Anyone with a computer, modem and a phone number for a  BBS could dial up and enter private chat rooms, where they could write whatever to whomever joined them in the chat room.  Often, the folks engaged in this activity would assume on-line alter-egos that had no resemblance to who they really were or what they looked like, because sending instant photos was not yet available on most of these forums.

However, with the much higher level of technological sophistication of today’s social networking sites, all sorts of on-line audio and imaging interaction is easy to do, including sending real-time graphic video of whatever you want to share.  Weiner sent several women photos of himself in various states of undress and even with no-dress with nothing left to the imagination.

Weirdly, however (at least as of this writing), none of this activity resulted in actual real-live, both-in-the-same-room sexual activity.

Weiner was ultimately forced to resign after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart started the ball rolling by his public release of one of these photos: a picture of Weiner’s mid-body with underpants on.  When first confronted with this,  Weiner lied about all of it, claiming that his Twitter account had been illegally hacked into.  But finally on June 6, 2011, faced with more public photo releases, each more provocative than the last, he admitted to this activity.

Having done so, he said he would not resign, and a poll of his constituents supported that decision, with over 50% supporting him against only 30% who wanted him out.  Bolstered by those stats, he though he could survive, but the media had other ideas.  The story ran every single day, with more and more revelations about Weiner’s titillating on-line activities, including with a stripper who had previously been a porn star.  The daily media flamings kept this story in the limelight, outshining the economic slowdown, the stock market loses, and even the fact that Michele Bachmann, of all people, was the winner of the Monday night GOP debate in New Hampshire attended by seven GOP presidential candidate.

The direct result of this media feeding frenzy was the exponentially growing demand that Weiner resign immediately.  It began when he admitted to this “activity” back on June 6, and just kept rising and growing louder and more powerful, until on Wednesday, June 15 Weiner finally made the decision to resign.  That decision has become public today, June 16, 2011.

The true reality is that once Weiner was caught lying about all of this, he was toast.  His credibility became damaged beyond immediate repair.  Thus he lost his congressional seat and status.  He has also lost any short-term chance of being elected mayor of New York City, a position he coveted and quite possibly would have been elected to.

It is also unfortunate for democrats because Weiner quite possibly was the most in-your-face fighter of republican snake oil salespeople in either house of congress.

But most of all, it has to be especially painful for ol’ Anthony, since through all of this, the “Weiner” never actually “got any”…and yet, he’s lost it all!  Not even a “real” memory to show for his troubles.  That’s got to hurt!!

And speaking about Michele Bachmann and her rising star resulting from the Monday night GOP debates…if she doesn’t even know who ended slavery in the USA…shouldn’t SHE resign???    🙂

USA Politics: More Entertaining Than Oprah Winfrey

Watching politics in the USA is possibly the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

In that back-stabbing, cut-throat, lying world, almost anything from almost anyone can come from almost anyone and almost anything.  When this “stuff” happens, as it invariably does in such an environment, we get to witness outrageous statements and situations that amaze, amuse, astound, and entertain us.   Then we get to be judgmental and holier-than-thou.  What fun!

Sometimes it’s about statements that horribly misrepresent established historical facts.  These “revisionist” facts are very easy to find and challenge, because the internet and search engines such as Google make it a cinch to dig up the truth from the comfort of your own computer or smart phone.  Plus, there are easily accessible web sites such as politifact.com and factcheck.com, whose sole purpose is to research the validity of statements that politicians make in their efforts to bamboozle the American electorate into voting for them.

If you have the time, you might want to check those two sites out.  They are priceless.

Yet, despite these and other available “truth” sources, politicians still seem bent upon entertaining us with their stupid statements and hanky-panky antics, seemingly believing that no one will catch them in their lies and historical ignorance, or their weird sexual/political/religious and/or sociopathological behaviors.  Take the following two incidents, for instance.

First and foremost:  Sarah Palin, the woman who is spending an eternity deciding whether or not to run for the GOP nomination for US president, recently jumped on a charter bus with her husband and 10-year-old daughter to meet & greet the US electorate from Washington DC to New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation GOP primary elections next year.  She toured Boston, Massachusetts, home of many American Revolutionary historical sites.

One of those sites is the Old North Church, from which Paul Revere received then-secret light signals (“one if by land, two if by sea”) regarding the route of British soldiers, who were tasked with disarming the American rebels and arresting the activists, would take for their mission.  Under cloak of darkness he rode approximately 26 miles from Charlestown to Lexington, alerting all whom he encountered.  This mission was secret and done very quietly so as not to tip off the British.

When Sarah was asked a question by local media regarding what she would take away from her time in Boston, she broke into a narrative about Paul Revere and how his mission was to ring bells and fire shots to warn the British that Americans weren’t going to give up their arms.

Huh??

And days later, when she was asked about the historical error, she stuck to her previous revisionist historical remarks, ending her statement with “I know my American history!”  You can watch both of her incredibly bizarre remarks HERE, in living color.

Of course, she’s shown her ignorance before, particularly during the 2008 presidential campaign as GOP vice-presidential nominee.  She claimed foreign policy experience because as Alaskan governor, she could see Russia from a remote Alaskan island, and she also had no clue what the “Bush Doctrine” was.

She wants to be president of the USA.  And at least 35-40% of Americans would actually vote for her!   WTF!?!

Even Margaret Thatcher, the conservative former prime minister of the UK and Ronald Reagan‘s closest ally when he was president, doesn’t want to meet her!

Entertaining, huh?  But…there’s more!

Enter democratic congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, who is serving his 6th term as the US congressman from Queens and Brooklyn, New York.  He was extremely popular with his constituents.  He’s been a vocal defender of the democratic party in congress and has done as much as anyone to hold the GOP’s feet to the fire, so to speak.  Assured of re-election in 2012, he also expressed a desire to run for mayor of New York City.  Last July he married a woman who is a well-known, well-respected and well-liked political staffer. He had it all.

Against this backdrop, Weiner was literally caught “with his pants down”, as he sent at least one photo of himself in his underwear, another of himself with no shirt, and finally, a photo of his unencumbered “junk”, to as many as six or more women via social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.  When initially confronted, he lied, claiming that his accounts were hacked into.  But after a week of relentless pursuit by the press, he finally admitted to these “activities”, apologizing and asking for forgiveness.

There is mounting pressure on him to resign his congressional seat, initially from republicans, but now from democrats as well.  Weiner has managed to grab defeat out of the jaws of victory, to paraphrase an old ABC Wide World of Sports slogan.  And it isn’t over yet, either.

So what if the Oprah Winfrey show isn’t on TV anymore?  Who needs it, anyway, when we have the Sarah & Anthony show (co-starring Michelle Bachmann and Arnold Schwarzenegger) coming at us from all sides?   🙂

GOP to Poor: Get Drug Tested or You Don’t Eat

In yet another assault on both the US Constitution and nation’s poor, republican governor of Florida (and former Urgent Care clinic owner among other medical venues) Rick Scott yesterday signed a bill passed by the GOP-dominated Florida legislature requiring all people applying for  Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to first be drug-tested, and at their own expense,  If they pass the drug test, then they are to be reimbursed for the test in the first assistance check they receive.  TANF is a federal program administered by the states.

Scott claimed that the bill is justified because Florida taxpayers should not be “subsidizing” drug addiction.

This ultra-right-wing abomination is wrong on so many levels.  The first and most human problem is that many poor folks applying for assistance probably can’t afford to pay for a US$50 drug test up front, especially if they don’t have enough money to feed their families.  And adding to that, it can take a week or more for test results to get back to the folks administering the TANF program, adding to the normal administrative delay in getting assistance to those who most need it, causing a possible delay of perhaps two or more weeks to actually receive help.  What does the applicant do in the meantime?

Second, just because a person is drug-free at the time of testing doesn’t mean that they won’t buy drugs later with their first assistance money.  After all, it won’t take long before the word spreads that staying away from most addictive drugs for a couple of weeks and pot for a little over a month will probably result in a clean drug test.

Third, this program is seemingly more about illegal drug enforcement, and not just all substance abuse, since it doesn’t address the most universally used drug of all, alcohol, which is legal and produces lots of profits…and revenue.

Finally, this law is a clear violation of the US Constitution Bill of Rights Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches. Michigan tried this and the US Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2003 in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Many poor people with families will not be able to afford the drug test.  They will thus not receive urgently needed assistance.   Others who submit knowing how to beat the drug test (by abstaining for a time) will still get money and will still buy their drugs.

There are also financial results.  Florida will initially reap a budget benefit as less folks apply for assistance.  And then, as time goes by, crime will go up as well as the costs of more law enforcement because some folks will believe they have no choice.  And for what?

The answer is to reduce spending on the poor…while protecting tax breaks for the rich.  It is the exact same motivation behind the GOP’s war on Medicare, Medicaid, health care reform and all other programs designed to help those who cannot help themselves.

And let’s not forget about the GOP’s war on organized labor:

It was announced today that Gov. Rick Scott, not satisfied with his attack on those whom can least afford it, is planning to issue an executive order mandating drug testing of all state employees regardless of their function, and in total absence of any reasonable suspicion of drug use.  If he does, he’ll be defying even more US Supreme Court case law, this time regarding their decisions that only public employees directly involved in public safety functions (such as air traffic controllers, pilots, train engineers, law enforcement, etc.) can be forced to submit to drug screening as a requirement of continued public employment.

After all, who cares if a secretary in an office that administers paper and pencils smokes an occasional joint in her own home on her weekends?

Oh, and who’s going to pay for all these drug tests and the resulting litigation?

You guessed it.  John and Jane Q. Taxpayer are.

It is astounding that the ultra-right honestly believes that constitutional rights can and should be sacrificed in favor of some nebulous concept of increased security.  As Benjamin Franklin said 235 years ago, They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. They don’t want to spend tax money on social programs, but they have no problem giving oil companies subsidies and spending money on useless legal battles they know they caused.

Rick Scott came out early in this election season announcing that he wouldn’t run for president in 2012, a year with an incumbent democratic president running for re-election.  The historical math clearly favors incumbents, and ex-businessman Scott knows that.  But 2016 will be another election year, with no incumbent to worry about.

Maybe Scott’s ultimate strategy now is to build his ultra-conservative record for then?