Category: Business and Society

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, July 28, 2005
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Slate features an article by Henry Blodget, a former securities analyst, which examines the investments of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts. In an analysis that has more than you would ever need to know about a person’s finances (and perhaps reads a bit too much into the investments), Blodget writes of Roberts, “His fortune is self-made, which suggests a bias toward self-reliance rather than entitlements and subsidies.” That sounds promising.

HT: Fast Company Now

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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S. T. Karnick over at The Reform Club comments on a recent suit filed against DuPont over Teflon, claiming that “DuPont lied in a massive attempt to continue selling their product.”

Karnick observes that abuse of the tort system is rampant, in part because “it has been perverted into a proxy for the criminal justice system: a means of punishing supposed wrongdoers through the use of a weaker standard of proof—preponderance of the evidence instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Trial by Fury

Law professor Ronald J. Rychlak outlines the changes over time to America’s tort law system in his recent book, Trial by Fury: Restoring the Common Good in Tort Litigation. The weakened burdens of proof is one of the trends that Rychlak investigates, in addition to increases in damage awards, the recognition of new torts, and the growth of class action suits.

Rychlak argues for a recovery of the purpose of the tort system. He concludes in light of the changes in tort law, “Effective tort reform, therefore, must return the system to one based on fault and causation, that holds responsible those who caused the damage, makes the injured whole, and does not impose upon the innocent.”

A growing controversy over hidden content in video games – sexually explicit or violent scenes – has led to a call for government regulation and fines. Is that the best way to address this problem? David Phelps calls for greater parental involvement in selecting appropriate video games for children, rather than a turn to the nanny state.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, July 25, 2005
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The New York Times reports this morning that “leaders of four of the country’s largest labor unions announced on Sunday that they would boycott this week’s A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention, and officials from two of those unions, the service employees and the Teamsters, said the action was a prelude to their full withdrawal from the federation on Monday.”

The withdrawal is the culmination of a period of dissatisfaction with the direction of big labor in the US. The leaders of the dissedent unions feel that “the federation under the leadership of its president, John J. Sweeney, has been ineffective in halting the decades-long slide of organized labor.” The disagreement is in part over the amount of AFL-CIO money that should go back to the local unions for recruitment.

Some of the dissenters feel that more money should be used for recruiting the next generation of union members, while the AFL-CIO leadership fears the diversion of funds would weaken the national political influence of labor unions.

This schism is occuring despite the efforts of the labor leadership to utilize religious leaders to push union membership. The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the interfaith outreach of the AFL-CIO, which “has hired more than three dozen aspiring ministers, imams, priests and rabbis to spread the gospel of union organizing across the nation this summer.”

This attempt to revitalize a form of the social gospel “seeks to recreate the historic partnership between faith and labor, an alliance that for nearly a century gave union leaders an aura of moral authority — and their cause the stamp of divine righteousness.”

There is some cause for doubt as to the authenticity of the effort, however. After signing up an interested worker, rabbinical student Margie Klein:

was pinning on a yarmulke — “to look more like a rabbi,” she explained — and preparing to march on AlliedBarton.

She read through a letter she had drafted to the firm: “Our traditions tell us that when one of us is poor, we are all impoverished…. When we work hard, we must be given the resources not only to get by, but to live, pray, and dream.”

“It’s a little spiritually cheesy,” she said doubtfully.

Two other interns came by to help; they added a quote from the Book of Micah to make the letter more authoritative. When Klein made her pitch to the exasperated manager at AlliedBarton, the other interns sang the line from Micah in the background: “We’ve got to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.”

The last of many gems here:

“Here’s Williams’ roadmap out of poverty: Complete high school; get a job, any kind of a job; get married before having children; and be a law-abiding citizen. Among both black and white Americans so described, the poverty rate is in the single digits.” — Walter Williams

HT: The Anchoress

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
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One of the reasons cited for various government programs promoting healthy eating, including the “fat” or “fast food tax,” is the obesity epidemic in America. This is especially true for America’s youth, as childhood obesity is often cited as one of the nation’s greatest health risks.

And experts and bureaucrats alike point the finger at unhealthy diets and “junk food.” A recent study linked childhood obesity in New Zealand with “heavy promotion of calorie-laden junk foods in advertisements near high schools.”

Various public schools, under tigher financial pressures, have made deals with vending companies, and the backlash is starting to be felt, as soda, candy, and chips take the rap for kids’ growing waistlines.

The Simpsons, as usual a reliable pop culture bellwether, had an episode called “The Heartbroke Kid,” in which Bart becomes addicted to junk food at his elementary school, gets fat, and has multiple heart attacks. The vending machines feature such “hip” treats as “Lollapalollipops,” “Krishna Krisps,” and “Dalai Lamanade.” Ingredients in one snack, as Lisa observes, include “monosodium poisonate and partially deweaponized plutonium.”

But have we been too quick to judge the root causes of childhood obesity? Duane D. Freese at Tech Central Station observes that

On the same day that the Federal Trade Commission finished a two day conference on food marketing and obesity and a couple days after the activist group Center for Science in the Public Interest called for warning labels on non-diet soda pop, up popped a study by scientists at the University of New Mexico that said most of the talk was so much hot air.

While scapegoating fast food and vending machine companies has been a favorite pastime for nutrition experts, more important contributing factors to childhood obesity have been overlooked. The greatest of these is perhaps the lack of childhood exercise. The New Mexico study

provided a glimpse at what is going on in the real world. The researchers tracked changes in body mass index, skin fold, physical activity and eating habits of 2,200 girls in three cities for 10 years, from age nine to 19.

The results? Even as eating remained the same, the rate of excess weight and obesity doubled among girls whose physical activity had markedly declined.

In other words, fast food and soft drinks weren’t the culprits. Neither was advertising of it. It was a decline in exercise that mattered. Just two to five hours of brisk walking a week — 17 to 43 minutes a day — would prevent girls gaining 9 to 20 pounds, according to the study. And even if it didn’t prevent weight gain, the additional exercise likely would make the girls healthier and feel better than all the dieting advice coming out of Washington conferences in events.

The sedentary lifestyle of children (and adults) is clear in this country. Wealth and technology, along with substandard physical education, have combined to make physical inactivity a favorite pastime.

My experience with P.E. growing up supports this. On days when P.E. was indoors, the teachers would roll out a few basketballs, and those who wanted to play would, and the others would sit and talk and watch. On outdoor days, we’d stroll lazily around the track. And even this little bit of exercise is minimized, since health class, which consists of sitting in a classroom, is often combined with P.E.

Things aren’t much better when kids get home, because there’s TV to watch, video games to play, and safety concerns with letting kids “go out and play.” Instead of so vigorously attacking fast food and “junk food” companies, people concerned about the health of children should emphasize the importance of regular exercise and physical activity.

Acting “white” is a term of derision among those who view hip hop and rap culture as authentically black. In fact, writes Anthony Bradley, it’s the rappers who’ve sold out by adopting the low-life habits first displayed among poor Southern whites. Bradley examines the hip-hop world’s violent and immoral ethos through the lens of Thomas Sowell’s new book, “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” and other sources.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
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An article in today’s New York Times confirms the trend in Hollywood to make movies that are faith and family friendly. Sharon Waxman reports that

producers, directors, studio executives and marketing specialists have been looking to either mollify or entice an audience that made its power felt with last year’s “Passion of the Christ.” That film, directed by Mel Gibson, took in an astonishing $370 million at the domestic box office when released by Newmarket Films in February 2004 and – along with the empowerment of a Christian conservative bloc after the last presidential election – helped change attitudes and practices in an industry usually known for its secularism.

Rev. Sirico recently wrote a commentary on this topic, referencing a newly released report by the Dove Foundation on the profitability of various ratings. The Dove study found that G-rated films are 11 times more profitable than R-rated features.

Here’s an illustration that when there is a market for morally upright products, the marketplace responds, despite whatever disagreements vendors may have with such morality. As Taylor Hackford, director of “Ray,” says, “It’s impossible for Hollywood not to reflect the nature of the country, and Bush has made his religion clear…. People in Hollywood aren’t stupid. It flies in the face of what I believe, but you’re still working in the movie industry, not the movie art form.” The purchasing power of moral consumers is where the real strength is in the marketplace.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, July 18, 2005
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Cigar Jack passes along this story about “faith leaders” soliciting the government to place tobacco regulation under the auspices of the FDA. The proposed legislation, which has twice been left languishing in the U.S. House of Representatives, “would give the FDA authority over the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.”

These faith leaders, like Rev. T. Randall Smith, pastor of Deer Park United Methodist Church and president of Texas Conference of Churches, represent a faction of Christianity that is radically different than that is historically ensconced in European culture. I have remarked on this before, specifically with reference to the “the Dutch-American culture of West Michigan.”

Moments like these seem to show that public opinion is generally in favor of the government restriction and prohibition of smoking. Even something as traditionally suspect as poker has succumbed to the cultural sanitization, as at the 2005 World Series of Poker completed last week, “There’s no cursing, no smoking and no mercy at the tables in a windowless hangar-like room,” though there is “a choking haze of cigarette and cigar smoke in the hallway.”

And to think that government is an impartial arbiter of justice in cases like this, as the aforementioned “faith leaders” seem to think, is to be more than a bit naive. A case in point: Despite bitter and contentious debate about the state’s budget woes, Republicans and Democrats in Michigan can at least agree on one thing–there’s a consensus to “sell off part of the state’s future tobacco settlement for a $3 billion upfront payment.”

Trial by Fury, by Ronald Rychlak

The Wall Street Journal editorializes today (subscription required) on a rare bit of good news from the world of tort law:

If the criminal investigation of class-action titan Milberg Weiss is anything to go by, prosecutors may finally be starting to hold the trial bar accountable for its legal abuses. Another good sign is that a separate federal grand jury, this one in New York, is investigating the ringleaders of the latest tort scam, silicosis.

Much of the credit for pointing the grand jury toward this corruption goes to Texas federal Judge Janis Graham Jack, who last month put the brakes on the silicosis machine with an extraordinary 249-page decision. Judge Jack not only blasted nearly every one of the 10,000 silicosis claims in front of her court, she documented the fraudulent means by which lawyers, doctors and screening companies had manufactured the claims. “These diagnoses were about litigation rather than health care,” wrote Judge Jack. “These diagnoses were manufactured for money.”

The facts of this case would be comical if they didn’t represent a gigantic effort to pervert the legal system into a cash cow for unscrupulous lawyers:

A former nurse, [Judge Jack] couldn’t understand how a disease that causes on average fewer than 200 deaths annually in the U.S. had suddenly resulted in more than 20,000 claims from Mississippi and surrounding states. To get to the bottom of the suits against some 250 companies, the Clinton appointee held 20 months of pretrial proceedings. What she found was a gigantic attempted swindle.

Her first discovery was that, of the more than 9,000 plaintiffs who supplied more information about their “disease,” 99% had been diagnosed with silicosis by the same nine doctors. These physicians had been retained by law firms or by “screening companies” that do mass X-rays on behalf of law firms searching for plaintiffs. When these physicians were deposed, they all but admitted they took their orders from the lawyers and screening firms…

…Another shocker was that more than 65% of the silica plaintiffs had previously been plaintiffs in an asbestos suit, even though it is close to clinically impossible to have both asbestosis and silicosis. Digging deeper, the judge found that many of the same doctors had ginned up the same patients for both asbestos and silicosis cases. One doctor, Ray Harron, received nearly $5 million from 1996-2004 from a leading screening company, N&M, and has supplied thousands of silicosis diagnoses, and at least 52,000 asbestos-related diagnoses.

Representatives from N&M admitted in court that they had no medical training and that their company has never had a medical director. They confirmed that law firms often set the criteria for the silicosis screening process, and that the screening companies were paid by the volume of people who ultimately joined a lawsuit. As N&M owner Heath Mason testified, his business depended on doing “large numbers.”

Thankfully, in this case a conscientious judge stopped the fraud in its tracks, and now a Manhattan grand jury is examining the conduct of the individuals who so recklessly tried to abuse the system. That investigation will be worth keeping an eye on.

Be sure to visit Acton.org’s special section on tort reform, where you will find a wealth of resources dealing with the important legal, societal, and moral issues that arise from the abuse of tort law, including the most recent addition to Acton’s Christian Social Teaching series: Trial by Fury: Restoring the Common Good in Tort Litigation.