The Corporate Demolition of Our Pillars of Freedom

The disposition of the Boeing manslaughtering of 346 trusting passengers and crew in the 737 MAX crashes (Indonesia – 2018 and Ethiopia – 2019) further weakens the system of tort law and individual pursuits of justice after wrongful deaths.

Federal District Court Judge in Chicago, Jorge L. Alonso, couldn’t even wait for the scheduled hearing by Boeing’s law firms and the cooperating plaintiffs’ lawyers. He approved the stipulation a day earlier, without comment, that, among other surrenders, took away the right to argue punitive damages for Boeing’s admitted criminal conduct, stopped the discovery and depositions of the most culpable top executives, and set the stage for mediation to reduce the number of trials for compensatory damage to a very few of the 156 wronged families. These mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers lost their loved ones when a stealth software, unknown to the pilots, seized control of the 737 MAX planes and drove them down at 550 mph into smithereens.

“Consolidated cases” like those of the 737 MAX disasters are not class actions. They are individual lawsuits from around the country brought together in one court for convenience and alleged efficiencies. Before plaintiffs are informed fully, they find themselves swept into one global deal after closed-door negotiations that unite both the corporate defendants and lawyers for the plaintiffs into one settlement framework

As these cases of corporate violence increase (think the opiates of the Perdue Pharmaceutical Company/Sackler Family and the transvaginal mesh cases), the company executives escape fines, admissions, and often are promoted or let go with huge multi-million-dollar severance payments. Meanwhile, the company pays insurable and deductible monetary damages. The great majority of such cases are not tried in court before a jury. All are under a secrecy order covering up all discovered materials, testimonies, ad infinitum. Deterrence and public disclosure – two important purposes of tort law – are lost. While the compensation, according to leading plaintiff lawyer, Shanin Specter, is far less in a global deal than what could be achieved by the pursuit of individual lawsuits. (See article: Plaintiffs lawyer rips colleagues over multidistrict litigation fees, pressure tactics by Daniel Fisher, December 11, 2020).

Year after year, these deteriorating practices, choreographed by law firms such as Perkins Coie and Winston & Strawn, get more dictatorial and more secret. Corporate perpetrators are exonerated and their interests preserved. The plaintiffs’ interests in punishment and public disclosures of the crimes for all the world to see are undermined or destroyed.

Until the 1970s, according to trial lawyer James C. Sturdevant, depositions were publicly filed on completion, and plaintiff attorneys did not enter into overreaching “protective orders” shrouded in extreme secrecy, that often exclude review by the wrongfully injured or next of kin plaintiffs themselves.

This is only one example of the inside shredding of the tort law system that evolved over the centuries from medieval England to serve the just interests of the aggrieved. Our U.S. Constitution’s seventh amendment guarantees a right to trial by jury. In recent decades, notwithstanding millions of wrongfully injured people, there has been a very sharp decline in civil jury trials, leading to articles titled “the vanishing jury trial.” This is just what the scheming corporate attorneys have been promoting with the tempted plaintiff attorneys growing accustomed to “sue and settle,” in the pejorative phrase of the remaining courageous trial lawyers.

The direct assaults on the Tort system since about 1980 have come from state legislators – indentured to corporate campaign cash – passing bills severely restricting plaintiffs’ rights. These include caps on damages for the most severe wrongful injuries (e.g., California’s notorious MICRA [Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act] Law limiting damages for serious medical malpractice to $250,000 for a lifetime of pain and suffering). (See more on MICRA at ConsumerWatchdog.org).

Other destructions of access to justice are limiting tort liabilities for corporations such as those operating atomic power plants and outright immunities for companies favored by Congress (such as the manufacturers of vaccines). The list of obstructions to a wronged plaintiff’s right to his or her day in court is long and cruel. (Visit the Center for Justice and Democracy for more details).

Another assault on the right of people to use tort law affects everybody who signs those fine print contracts that sometimes extend into dozens of pages. Airbnb ties up homeowners with a fine print contract peonage totaling over 160 pages.

This contract servitude keeps getting more brazen by these dictatorial corporations – almost none of whose contract terms and conditions competitively differ from one to another. People are forced to give up charging defendants with liability for wrongdoing and to accept prohibitions on the right to a jury trial. These and other handcuffs herd citizens into private compulsory arbitration, favoring the company, in cases of any dispute.

In short, these “mice print” unilateral contracts (as Senator Elizabeth Warren calls them) are destroying tort law.

Because we don’t study at all in high school and college these two great pillars of freedom – the citizen laws of torts and contracts, most Americans have little idea of what they are being stripped of by autocratic companies and their law firms. Ideally, you should have the right to freely negotiate contracts you enter into with vendors. Ideally, should you be wrongfully injured, you should be free to retain a contingent fee attorney (paying only if there is a recovery) and have your full day in court without all kinds of corporate-bred rules to bend the contest in their favor.

Alas, year after year, these freedoms are taken away piece by piece with little media coverage and no marches or demonstrations. The autocratic corporatization of the law would have shocked our founding fathers and the patriots who defied King George III in 1776.

Can we not rise to the challenge of protecting and advancing these two pillars of tort and contract freedoms being subjected to systematic destruction by corporate predators and their toady politicians? Last heard, “We the People” are constitutionally sovereign, and we far outnumber these insatiable, profit-maximizing corporatists.

— source commondreams.org | Ralph Nader | Nov 21, 2021

Nullius in verba


American democracy is in very serious danger

At 93 years of age, Noam Chomsky still writes, gives lectures and interviews, and stands out front for what he believes is right. He is part of the European progressive movement Diem25, and has raised alarms about the risks of climate change while becoming the scourge of Trumpism. He is also the father of modern linguistics, having established the theory of generative grammar in the 1950s. A prolific author, renowned philosopher and incorrigible activist, he was arrested for opposing the Vietnam War, blacklisted by Richard Nixon and supported the publication of the Pentagon Papers. More recently, he urged Americans to vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 elections. Since 2017, he has lived in Tucson, Arizona, and spoke to EL PAÍS by video call from his home. The professor’s gray hair appeared on the screen at the precise time, and while the years have weakened his voice, his thoughts remain as sharp as ever.

Question. I read that you wrote your first essay when you were only 10 years old, and it was about the Spanish Civil War. Is that correct?

Answer. Yes, and I can date it exactly, because I know what it was about. It was about the fall of Barcelona. So it was February, 1939. Sure, it was not a great article, but it was an article about the spread of fascism in Europe, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Barcelona. From my 10-year-old point of view, it looked as if the world was coming

— source chomsky.info | Noam Chomsky | Jan 25, 2022

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Rightwing Lobby Group ALEC Driving Laws to Blacklist Companies That Boycott the Oil Industry

The influential rightwing lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is driving a surge in new state laws to block boycotts of the oil industry. The group’s strategy, which aims to protect large oil firms and other conservative-friendly industries, is modelled on legislation to punish divestment from Israel. Since the beginning of the year, state legislatures in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Indiana have introduced a version of a law drafted by ALEC, called the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, to shield big oil from share selloffs and other measures intended to protest the fossil fuel industry’s role in the climate crisis. A dozen other states have publicly supported the intent of the legislation.

— source desmog.com | Feb 11, 2022

Nullius in verba


Electoral Bonds Go on Sale Again, with no transparency

On December 30, 2021, the Union finance ministry announced that the 19th phase of the sale of electoral bonds will begin from January 1 and go on till January 10.

Politicians and rights activists have once again raised the grave concerns associated with anonymous funding through these bonds.

They have also questioned why the Supreme Court has so far not taken up the petitions which challenged the constitutional validity of this scheme.

The finance ministry’s statement said the sale of electoral bonds will take place at 29 authorised branches of State Bank of India. The bank has been authorised to issue and en-cash these bonds.

The ministry said the Union government notified the electoral bond scheme in 2018 and as per its provisions electoral bonds may be purchased by a person who is a citizen of India

— source thewire.in | Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar | 31/Dec/2021

Nullius in verba


Republicans Are Erasing Decades of Voting Rights Gains Before Our Eyes

On Wednesday, Republicans blocked a vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court’s gutting of the landmark voting rights law in 2013—and the lack of congressional action to fix it—means that the current redistricting cycle is the first in more than 50 years where states with a long history of discrimination do not have to approve their voting maps with the federal government.

Voting rights advocates are urgently warning that the absence of federal voting rights protections is having a devastating impact on representation for communities of color, erasing decades of hard-fought gains for once-disenfranchised groups and preventing fast-changing demographics from leading to a shift in political power, particularly in the South.

“Not to be melodramatic, but the South is burning,” says Allison Riggs, co-executive director of the North Carolina-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is heavily

— source motherjones.com | Ari Berman | Nov 5, 2021

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Protest for Protecting Voting Rights

We are in a moment in this country when states are suppressing the vote across the South, across the Midwest, even out in the far West. And there’s really only one way to stop it, which is that the Senate, the Congress has to pass urgently needed federal voting rights bills now, the John Lewis bill and the Freedom to Vote Act, which was authored in part by Joe Manchin himself. We have the 51 votes. Vice President Kamala Harris has done her job in getting that consensus as president of the Senate. And now we need Joe Biden, President Joe Biden, to do his job and to call on the Senate to create a path for an up-or-down vote on these bills, so we can stop this voter suppression now.

In general, these bills are meant to make it harder for people to vote. The most extreme thing we’ve seen is actually state legislatures give themselves the power to ultimately overturn entire statewide elections and impose their will on the people of their own state. It’s the most anti-democratic thing that I’ve ever seen.

And what troubles me—now, my grandmother turned 105 this week. Her grandfather was born into slavery, and he was one of the last Blacks to serve in Virginia during Reconstruction

— source democracynow.org | Nov 17, 2021

Nullius in verba


Republicans Are Rigging the Next Decade of Elections

We are seeing the greatest rollback of voting rights since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, and the greatest attempt to reduce the influence and power of voters of color since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the most extreme gerrymandering efforts since the Voting Rights Act was enacted. And if you look at state after state after state, the same states that are pushing voter suppression are also pushing extreme gerrymandered maps to lock in white Republican power for the next decade at the state and federal level, whether it’s Texas or Georgia or North Carolina. And so, what Republicans did is they tried to overturn the election, then they tried to rig elections through voter suppression, and now they are rigging elections through gerrymandering. So it’s a step-by-step-by-step process to undermine our democracy.

And the federal legislation that has been proposed by Democrats and filibustered by Republicans would stop these efforts, would make it easier to vote and would also ban partisan gerrymandering, so the kind of extreme gerrymandering we’re seeing in places

— source democracynow.org | Nov 17, 2021

Nullius in verba


Enduring Legacy of Voting Rights Pioneer Fannie Lou Hamer

It was the 31st of August in 1962 that 18 of us traveled 26 miles to the country courthouse in Indianola to try to register to become first-class citizens. We was met in Indianola by policemen, highway patrolmen, and they only allowed two of us in to take the literacy test at the time. After we had taken this test and started back to Ruleville, we was held up by the city police and the state highway patrolmen and carried back to Indianola, where the bus driver was charged that day with driving a bus the wrong color.

After we paid the fine among us, we continued on to Ruleville, and Reverend Jeff Sunny carried me four miles in the rural area, where I had worked as a timekeeper and sharecropper for 18 years. I was met there by my children. They told me the plantation owner was angry because I had gone down, tried to register. After they told me, my husband came and said the plantation owner was raising Cain because I had tried to register. And before he quit talking, the plantation owner came and said, “Fannie Lou, do you know — did Pap tell you what I said?”

— source democracynow.org | Oct 08, 2021

Nullius in verba