In its’ November issue, Texas Monthly magazine published a story by Senior Editor Mimi Swartz with the inflammatory headline “Hurt? Injured? Need a Lawyer? To Bad!” The story can be simply summarized: Small group of rich business types spend millions to pay off the legislature to pass a tort reform bill that locks poor deserving Texans out of the Court House to the benefit of these same rich business types. In this case the villains of the story, the rich guys, come packaged in an organization called Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR).
Needless to say the TLR didn’t like Ms. Swartz’s article and provided Texas Monthly with a lengthy brief claiming to set the record strait. Texas Monthly responded it would allow TLR to present a condensed version of its accusations and apologize for any mistakes but warned it would rebut the rebuttal. TLR passed and responded on its own Web site and via a direct mail campaign. Now Texas Monthly has posted TLR’s original six point rebuttal of Swartz’s story along with its rebuttal of that rebuttal on the Texas Monthly Web site. Unless you are a lawyer my advice is not to bother reading either - unless you lack a life.
So how fair and balanced was the article? First, a disclaimer: I ran a firm in the mid-90s (Temerlin McClain PR) that worked for the TLR and I managed the account. Let me add that I was not just a disinterested hired gun working for a pay check. I believed in everything the TLR was about. While at Texas Business and later at the Dallas Morning News I regularly outraged trial lawyers with stories, columns and editorials calling for reforms they saw as a threat to their incomes and, if you grant them sincerity (and I do) – a threat to justice for average folks.
So what was my take on Swartz’s article? Was it an editorial or a fair and balanced discussion of tort issues? Neither. It was a wet kiss for the Texas Trial Lawyer’s Association (TTLA). The title said all, and carefully selected, but mostly accurate, facts were presented to back up the title. While that may bother the TLR it doesn’t bother me. I did that to the Trial Lawyers all the time. And Texas Monthly is not the Texas Lawyer. Legal briefs don’t sell magazines - human interest stories do.
What Swartz did do was wave a bloody shirt. The trial lawyer style is to present a handful of egregious cases and suggest there is no amount of money to adequately compensate the wronged (they are usually right). Their argument then proceeds to assert that whatever problems the system might have it could not be fixed without denying these poor souls due justice. In other words: Look at the trees not the forest.
That was because the forest was dying. The soaring cost of insurance premiums in Texas was causing doctors to retire early, placing an enormous burden on small businesses, and making out-of-state companies think twice before doing business in Texas. Indeed, many small businesses were “going naked” (carrying no insurance). If it was hit with a law suite a “naked” business just went out of business leaving a lot of unemployed people and a plaintiff with zero.
The problem with the system was that juries were willing to make huge awards to the desperate little guy because they felt he deserved help regardless of fault and since the insurance company was paying – well, what the hell. Of course, it was really you and I paying either through higher insurance premiums of our own, or higher prices charged us by businesses trying to cover higher premiums.
The Trial Lawyers have always dismissed the idea that headline grabbing billion dollar awards have any affect on insurance premiums. They correctly note only a tiny percentage of cases ever go to trial and of those a tiny percentage ever delivers outlandish jury awards. What they don’t say is that these set the risk ceiling. Insurance companies look at what they might have to pay in a trial based on the few that actually go to trial. If they see an upside risk of say $100 million they might rather settle for policy limits of $10 million than defend a case they otherwise think they can win and pay zip. Call it justice by actuary.
The problem wasn’t economic damages that could be fairly easily and accurately fixed but “punitive” damages awarded by juries for subjective pain and suffering. These damages were out of control. Juries were coming to see the tort system as a matter of wealth redistribution. The tort reformers were about taming these punitive damages. Yet, punitive damages are where Trial Lawyers make their money.
And this is the crux of the matter. It is absolutely true that most Texans cannot afford a plaintiff’s lawyer on even a slam dunk case. Trial lawyers take cases based on “contingency fees” that allow them to collect a big percentage of punitive damages. A large prospective settlement means a large prospective fee and so trial lawyers will tote the note for the case (actually there are investors often willing to fund law suits). If you cap punitive damages you cap Trial lawyer income. If the sad people in Swartz’s article are unable to find lawyers it is because the lawyers don’t think they can make enough money not because the law locked anyone out of the court house.
Texas Monthly defends the article by noting Swartz ends her tale with a fair and balanced summation: “In the battle between the trial lawyers and the tort reformers, each side accuses the other of excessive greed and mendacity; each side is convinced that only its side represents the truth. The middle ground is reserved for the all-too-human collateral damage of a bitter ward involving big money and partisan politics, seemingly without end.”
I’ll grant that while neither side wins a “warm and fuzzy” award both sides are mostly sincere. I’ll grant both sides represent big money. I’ll grant that trials lawyers are mostly Democrats and reformers overwhelmingly Republican. But I cannot grant that placing “all-too-human collateral damage” between the two illustrates fair and balanced. This was a wet kiss.
Texas Monthly published a story in November about the consequences of tort reform. Texas Monthly thinks their article was fair and balanced The fighters for Tort reform think it was an outrage. Scott thinks it was neither.
Dr. Alan MacDiarmid recieving Nobel Prize in 2000Dr. Alan MacDiarmid, Ph.D. is best known in the Dallas-area as the winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and a Distinguished Scholar in Residence for the University of Texas at Dallas and chairman of that institution's Nanotech Institute Advisory Board. In 2003 his affiliation with UTD put their Nanotech Institute on the global Map. Generally, his recent work has involved merging organic polymers and nanotech. While this work as enormous potential everyday implications for the future, laymen may be forgiven a lack of specific knowledge. As Dr. MacDiarmid is the first to agree the field is pretty esoteric.
However, Dr. MacDiarmid has a new interest: bio-agriculture, and it is a field that may soon have a considerable impact on both UT Dallas and on our every day lives. Specifically, his interest lies in the area of bio-alcohol and bio-diesel which could, within a relatively short period of time, replace fossil fuels as a primary source of energy for automobiles and other chemical products. He has proposed the creation of an institute that would fit into UTD's Energy and Environment initiative. It is an initiative that he believes could turn this area into the center of an industry whose time has come.
As a primer bio-alcohol products are obtained by fermenting sugars from a variety of plants like sugarcane and corn. Bio-diesel products are derived by essentially squeezing oils from nuts. Dr. MacDiarmid notes that while bio-alcohol producing plants have a limited growing area; plants for bio-diesel can grow in a wide range of soils and climates. Among the plants suitable for bio-diesel productions are: sunflowers, peanuts, soybeans, and cotton, canola, and castor beans.
Are the world's economic and political conditions rights to begin a shift to an agriculture based energy economy? Dr. MacDiarmid certainly believes they are. He noted in a recent presentation in Brazil to that country's leadership that this solves many problems. "We can shift areas of the world where the primary cash crop is the poppy or some other fuel for only the drug trade into a cash crop that runs cars or cools homes." He puts it another say: "bio-agriculture isn't just about energy economics, but also about sociology and political science." Dr. MacDiarmid's list of top five problems contains four that would be directly affected by a substantial replacement of fossil fuels by bio-agriculture: energy, food, environment, and poverty.
Dr. MacDiarmid has proposed that the University of Texas at Dallas join in partnership with Brazil in this effort because Brazil is currently the world's leader in the use of alcohol for energy needs. Brazil has been long ahead of the world's curve in utilizing bio-agriculture, particularly bio-alcohol, to fuel its autos. In 1975 Brazil established a national program intended to reduce the nation's reliance on imported oil. The program has produced results. Since 1985 Brazil has produced 6 million ethanol and flexible fuel vehicles. Brazil has also become the world's second largest producer of Soybeans as it has moved to produce its own domestic fuel supply. The nation is continuing to invest in the development of renewable energy sources.
"There is an enormous amount of work to be done before bio-alcohol and bio-diesel products can significantly replace oil as the primary fuel," MacDiarmid readily agrees. "For bio-alcohol you will need to bring down the cost of using cellulose enzymes (chemicals that will break down plant cellulose into sugars) from the current 8 - 13-cents to something more like 1.8-cents per liter. In the area of bio-diesel you will need to create new plant strains through genetic engineering. He notes that there is also much work to be done in the development of fuel cells for both bio-mass sources.
What Dr. MacDiarmid proposes helps America's farmers, ranchers and rural business create renewable energy systems and businesses. It also encourages the creation of a biobased products, things that are made from corn, soybeans, and other crops into things we use everyday, such as plastics and textiles. Since the beginning of the Bush administration, some $290 billion in loans and grants has been approved to increase our renewable energy supply and improve efficiency. With the spot light focusing on alternative and renewable energy, the proposed partnership between Texas and Brazil makes sense in that Texas is the world's energy capitol and a major agriculture producer. UTD President, Dr. David Daniel appears favorable to the proposal and so it seems that one-day Dallas may be known as the Capitol of New Energy and Texas agriculture may be again the state's leading cash generator.
As Iraqis go to the polls to elect a new Parliament, President Bush acknowledged that the U.S. went to war in Iraq based on "wrong" intelligence. The President said: "It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong." But, in a speech delivered at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, President Bush also sought to make the case that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 was the right one.
Meanwhile, U.S. ally and the former Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi warned that there was a serious risk that a Shiite theocracy closed aligned to the Mullahs in Iran could wind up in power after the elections.
Two weeks ago, a candidate running for office on Alawi’s secular party ticket was assassinated in broad daylight in the Shia-dominated provincial capital of Omarah. British military officers based in southeastern Iraq have expressed the fear that Saddam Hussein’s once dominant Ba’ath party may be replaced by militant Shiites loyal to Mogtada al-Sadr, a radical Shia cleric who is part of the governing party’s coalition. In an article in the December 15thFinancial Times, a British intelligence officer based in that region warns that Islamic radicals associated with Sadr may dominate the government in that region just as much as the Ba’ath party once did. Accordingly to Captain Rupert Gorman, "It’s a creeping disease akin to Ba’athism."
A particularly interesting note in Peter Spiegal’s Financial Times article is that two factions of Shiite militants are beginning to fight one another for control of the region. Spiegel reports that earlier this year a faction known as the "Badr Brigade, the armed group affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq" engaged in open warfare with militia backed by Sadr. The supporters of Sadr claim that the "Badr Brigade" has close ties to the Mullahs in Iran.
The Shias, Sunnis and Kurds don’t get along with one another. Many of the small minority of Christians already have left for Syria. Now, Shia militia factions are fighting against each other. It makes one wonder if civil war is inevitable in Iraq no matter what we do over the next twelve to eighteen months. It also may be that Iyad Allawi has it right in fearing the emergence of a Shiite theocracy in Iraq.
Over the past several months, I have read numerous editorials opining over the "intelligent design" vs. evolution theory school curriculum debate. All of the editorials I have read have one thing in common: they all assume evolution theory is an airtight, objectively scientific explanation of the origin of man. None of the editorials acknowledge the significant inconsistencies, gaps and even scandals (by supposed "scientists" with an atheistic/naturalistic philosophical worldview and agenda) found in the development and continuing teaching of evolution theory to students. For example, the following case studies are widely used in schools (and have even been cited in recent news stories/articles) to support the robustness of evolution theory, all of them with significant flaws:
"Darwin's Beaks" -- Beak sizes of finches on the Galapagos Islands vary according to habitats in which they live, BUT the change in beak sizes were nothing more than a cyclical fluctuation allowing the birds to survive in different conditions allowing the finches to remain finches...the finches did not evolve into another species as evolution theory would suggest.
"Dysfunctional Fruit Flies" -- After years and years of scientists such as Richard Goldschmidt creating mutations in fruit flies through radiation and other means (creating multiple wings for example), the fruit fly never evolved into another species or even a more advanced fruit fly....scientists only created odd, inferior designed fruit flies.
"Doctored Moths" -- The peppered moths of England example, which I remember from my school textbooks, has turned out to be a staged scandal in which "scientists" glued dead moths onto tree trunks that were artificially discolored to supposedly show how moths evolved to darker colors to match trees polluted by factories - a dishonest, agenda driven stunt to further perpetrate natural selection.
"Haeckel's Famous Fake" -- Even Darwin was fooled by Ernst Haeckel who was overly eager to "confirm" evolutionary theory. Haeckel fudged sketches of embryos to show that embryos of a fish, tortoise, chick, hog, calf, rabbit and human are all similar in their conception, while in truth the embryos are significantly different in shape and design. Even worse, scientists in Haeckel's day knew he faked the sketches, but continued using it as evidence to support their naturalistic worldview agenda.
The fundamental problem of Darwin's evolution theory is that small adaptations within a particular species are extrapolated over vast periods of time in the past to explain major differences among species we know of today. It is a "leap of faith" if there ever was one. Nancy Pearcy, author of Total Truth, correctly points out that Darwin's theory may explain "the survival of the fittest, but it fails to explain the arrival of the fittest." Most evolutionists are so persuaded by philosophical naturalism (their "religion"), their presupposed atheistic worldview actually prevents them from being intellectually honest and objective scientists in their practice and conclusions regarding the question of the origin of man.
So, given numerous factual shortcomings with commonly used support for evolution theory as an explanation for the origin of man, why not ALSO teach intelligent design alongside as a potentially viable theory? There is much objective scientific evidence, given today's advanced scientific technology, which could objectively be presented to support "intelligent design," for example:
* Irreducible Complexity of the Molecular Cell -- Through the use of the electron microscope, scientists today can see that the nucleus of the human cell contains an irreducibly complex structure of "machinery" that resembles manufactured gadgets accomplishing a designed purpose. Darwin, of course, did not have the benefit of today's technology, which caused him and his contemporaries to refer to the "black box" of the mystery of how the microbiological world is structured to work in reality. Darwin even said, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down (On the Origin of Species). I submit it takes more blind faith to hold to the idea that the irreducible complexity of microbiology developed randomly by nature than an Intelligent Creator who purposefully designed cells to function independently and interdependently within living beings.
* A Balanced Cosmos -- Cosmologists today acknowledge there is a delicate equilibrium that keeps the Universe held together preventing chaos and destruction. For example, if the force of gravity were minutely stronger or weaker, all stars would be either too cold to support life or they would be burning too brightly for life to occur. In fact, the margin of error for equilibrium in the universe's expansion rate is 1in 10 raised to the power of 60! Heinz Oberhummer, an astronomer, honestly admits "I am not a religious person, but I could say this universe is designed very well for the existence of life...the basic forces in the universe are tailor-made for the production of carbon-based life." Again I submit that it takes greater blind faith to believe the universe is randomly held together by natural forces than a "Grand Designer" who planned it out in the first place and sovereignly keeps it together in an orderly manner, avoiding chaos.
* The Genetic Code -- Perhaps the greatest evidence for "intelligent design" is what scientists know today regarding DNA molecules, a digital-like code (much like computer programming code) that defines the differences of all living beings. When Egyptian hieroglyphics were discovered, no one knew how to decipher them until 1799 with the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, and yet everyone knew without any doubt that hieroglyphics were made by an intellectual agent. They were not patterns that were randomly etched on rock walls by natural forces. So too does DNA code "scream" of a Designer establishing complex information code to differentiate between living entities in the world. Natural causes can not produce decipherable messages or information, unless one believes a spilled bowl of alphabet soup could randomly fall on the floor and communicate a complete sentence of instruction on how to clean it up! Once more, I submit it takes significantly more bind faith to maintain that DNA code is the product of random nature in and of itself vs. the language of an "Intelligent Designer."
Therefore, why not teach "intelligent design" alongside "evolution theory" as two competing, yet imperfectly scientific explanations of the origin of man, each requiring a degree of faith, and then let students come to their own conclusions? Wouldn't this truly be a liberal (in the original good sense of the word) education!
Tom PaukenYesterday, DallasBlog reported that the federal budget deficit hit a record level in November with a $83.1 billion shortfall. Today, we learn that the U.S. trade deficit for October hit an all-time hit at $68.9 billion. If this rate continues through the 2006 fiscal year, our annual deficit for FY2006 will be in the range of $800 billion. Our resident economist, Carl Pellegrini tells me that he does not believe that higher interest rates will be able to stem the ongoing problems associated with the huge U.S. trade deficit. In Carl’s words, this will constrain the incoming Fed Chief Ben Bernanke "in fighting his deflation demons".
All of this bad news about the huge budget and trade deficits should be a warning shot to the Congressional and Executive branches of the federal government that they had better start addressing these issues before we have a major economic crisis on our hands.
One Texas businessman who has a plan to address the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States and reduce the trade deficit by reforming our corporate tax system is David Hartman. Hartman’s proposal, which we will be talking more about in the weeks and months ahead here at DallasBlog, would replace the corporate income tax with a border adjusted tax which would level the playing field for American businesses seeking to compete in the U.S. and export their products overseas. The current tax system provides incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas which adds to our trade deficit and causes the loss of good middle-class jobs here at home. The Hartman plan would encourage savings and investment in the United States. We will provide the details of his plan in the upcoming weeks here at DallasBlog.