Who didn't nod his or her head just a little bit this week when Bill Maher chastised everyone lamenting the departure of "centrist" Senate-quitter Evan Bayh. "He isn't a centrist," explained Maher, "He's a corporatist, and that's the main problem with Congress ... When he says Congress isn't working, that's why Congress isn't working. Buh bayh!"
I think we all know that corporate America has been running the show lately. With virtually infinite resources, they've had a grip on the executive and legislative branches of government for some time. Frighteningly and dangerously, they are now encroaching on the one branch that should be immune from all that -- the judiciary.
The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, unleashing unlimited corporate spending in elections for all three branches of government will make matters far worse, certainly for any elected judge or any lawmaker who cares about actual people, as opposed to the corporate "people" created by the Court. We've been trying to find some "people" actually happy about this, so we took a trip over to Bizarro World, the wondrous DC Comics planet where everything opposite is true. Not only did we find those Supreme-Court-created corporate "people" living there, we located all of their "think thanks," PR firms and lobbyists there too.
That's where we found a new report from Manhattan Institute, one of the more right-wing of America's corporatist "think tanks," the kind of place that still considers Dick Cheney an "honored guest." This trashy report entitled "Trial Lawyer, Inc.," I think qualifies them for lifetime residence in Bizarro World.
First, a word about the Manhattan Institute. As we often say, these kinds of organizations exist to finally give voice to the real victims in life -- the mom and pop tobacco companies, gasoline conglomerates, and insurance providers, for whom earning a bajillion dollars a year is not what it used to be. In today's market a bajil is barely enough to buy groceries. Tobacco companies need to eat, at least they do in Bizarro World.
The Manhattan Institute blames one group for their sad lot in life: lawyers who keep suing their global corporate members for chopping off fingers, maiming children or making the air impossible to breathe. In Bizarro World, lawyers are literally running the country now, and the Wall Street Journal confirms this in a hilarious piece they call "How the Plaintiffs Bar Bought the Senate." Here's some proof:
Lawyers have "injected $780 million into federal election campaigns" in the last ten years. Actually, it's more than that but the Manhattan Institute decided not to discuss donations to Republicans. You see, in Bizarro World anything's possible, like when you lump together the contributions of plaintiffs' lawyers, who are trying to preserve corporate liability, with those of corporate lawyers, who generally want to do the opposite, and say they're the same thing. It's sorta like defining your supporters as people who want you dead - like, say, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is not only the top spending lobby group in the country, but has an entire project devoted to wiping out the plaintiffs bar called the Institute for Legal Reform. This one project alone spent about four times as much money lobbying last year as the trial lawyers' American Association for Justice. This says nothing of corporate expenditures made both in Congress and in state capitols by every other trade association (including second place AMA), the insurance industry, the tobacco industry, chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies, HMOs, oil and gas companies, auto manufactures, airplane manufacturers, gun companies, and every entity that wants immunity from lawsuits. Just look at this list! But who cares when you live in Bizarro World?
Enactment of laws all over the country expanding the rights of injured consumers to sue in court. Remember in Bizarro World, you say something when the opposite is true. In the last 25 years virtually every state has done something to change hundreds of years of laws to limit (that's the opposite of expand) injured consumers' ability to go to court, with some states passing increasingly brutal legislation over several years. On the other hand, barely any laws have passed to help sue insurance companies and hold other corporate wrongdoers accountable in court.
This is equally so in Congress, which has enacted a slew of liability restrictions protecting everything from the general aviation industry to perpetrators of securities fraud. (See our new study.) Numerous efforts to level the legal playing field have not passed, from the Patients Bill of Rights (that would allow you to sue your HMO for malpractice, which you can't now do under federal law), to fixing a Supreme Court decision that immunizes reckless medical device manufacturers. Senator Arlen Specter and others are trying to fix U.S. Supreme Court decisions that make it nearly impossible now to sue aiders and abettors of securities fraud and other really bad Court decisions that have done tremendous damage to the rights of average folks.
But in fairness, the Manhattan Institute is correct in pointing out that two laws recently did pass that "expanded liability," or more precisely, put the law back to where it was supposed to be. One, named for Lilly Ledbetter, corrected a Supreme Court employment discrimination decision that had enormous civil rights implications (and so was driven by the civil rights and labor community). The other, Al Franken's amendment to the defense appropriation bill, ensured that women who serve as military contractors and get brutally drugged and raped by their co-workers ought to be able to seek legal recourse in court. Every female GOP Senator voted for it. As for opponents to this bill (of which the Manhattan Institute is apparently one), I think John Stewart said it best in a piece called "Rape Nuts."
We could go on, but why bother? It just encourages them.
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