Friday, January 21, 2005

Very disturbing news about the Catholic Church's and Pope Pius XII's role in the aftermath of the Holocaust:

The latest scandal to rock the Catholic Church, causing a storm in Italy and elsewhere, follows a familiar pattern: first the crime, then the cover-up. It concerns whether the Church kidnapped Jewish children after the Holocaust and has at its center, yet again, Pius XII, the pope that the Church appears determined to make into a saint despite his criminal role during the Holocaust and, we now learn, quite probably afterward. A Church document of October 23, 1946, recently disclosed in Corriere della Sera, contains papal orders for the French Church forbidding the return of entire classes of Jewish children entrusted to Church institutions during the Holocaust. . . . "If the [Jewish] children have been entrusted [to the Church] by their parents, and if the parents now claim them back, they can be returned, provided the children themselves have not been baptized. It should be noted that this decision of the Congregation of the Holy Office has been approved by the Holy Father."

It took almost 60 years for this scandal to come to light, and while an investigation is warranted, it is unlikely to happen. Given Pius XII's deplorable record during World War II -- "systematically spreading hatred and bigotry against a people while they are being persecuted and slaughtered . . . . approving Nazified race laws persecuting an entire people . . . . failing to command bishops and priests subject to his absolute authority not to participate in the deportations of tens of thousands of people to their deaths . . . . ordering a policy of kidnapping children . . . from people who had been through the Nazi" -- any reasonable person, Catholic or otherwise, must wonder why in the name of all that's holy the Church wants to make a saint out of this man.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The leader of the free world is out to settle some scores:

Sounds like ole George is on to something, doesn't it? And even if he isn't, what's to like about lawyers, anyway?

Well, sad to say, ole George has let us down. He's right that physicians are hit hard these days with insurance costs. And trial lawyers do love to sue them,sometimes frivolously. But there's another player in this drama he overlooked: the insurance industry and it's not clear why. George W. isn't dumb, as Democrats like to say, but he's not the brightest bulb on the Washington Christmas tree either. So maybe he just forgot. Or maybe he found the facts inconvenient.

A study by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, using the experience in California and statistics developed by the federal government's auditing office, makes the case that capping jury awards has had little impact on malpractice insurance rates. What works best, the foundation found, is tighter regulation of the insurance industry.


Why does Bush ignore this aspect of the problem? No mystery there. It's politics. This is the most blatantly political administration in Washington in decades, and the trial lawyers are viewed by the Bush-Cheney crowd as simply Democratic auxiliaries. Not without reason, one should add. The trial lawyers have been big sugar daddies for the Democrats for more than a decade.

Bush, the politician, has an understandable beef with the tort bar. But Bush, as a proper president, isn't allowed that luxury. As chief magistrate and the people's tribune, he was elected to solve problems like this, not to indulge petty political peeves. Make no mistake, the physicians' growing insurance burden is a crisis. But it can't be resolved without recognizing the insurance industry as part of the problem.

The industry likes to claim it loses money on malpractice coverage. And some companies undoubtedly do. But on the whole, the industry is profitable beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. Moreover, the opportunity for cooking the books is greater in the insurance dodge than in almost any other line of work. The industry is not subject to federal regulation; indeed, it's exempt even from antitrust laws.


This contest involves some of the wealthiest segments of American society and the least regulated: the physicians' lobby, the plaintiffs' bar and the insurance industry. But the greatest potential losers in the struggle are ordinary Americans who need dependable physician care and legal redress when that care is shoddy. They look to the president for help in providing it.

In using the crisis to settle a political score with the trial lawyers, Bush is guilty of presidential malpractice.

He hit the nail on the head.

Robert Landauer:

Bush chose the Illinois site [to redirect his attack, this time to benefit the insurance industry] because "(a) recent study ranked Madison County the number one place in the country for trial lawyers to sue" -- the nation's worst "judicial hellhole," the American Tort Reform Association called it, followed by neighboring St. Clair County. Health care professionals should be fighting illnesses, not "junk lawsuits," Bush declared.

A closer look at the numbers by lawyers, advocacy groups and news reporters presents a less alarming picture locally. Also, analyses by the Congressional Budget Office indicate that Bush's legislative prescriptions won't cut medical costs any more than a tummy tuck will cure a runny nose.

Of nearly 700 malpractice/wrongful death suits filed in Madison County between 1996 and 2003, only 14 resulted in verdicts. Only six of those favored the plaintiffs. Of those six, only one was large enough to be affected by the president's proposed $250,000 cap.

So even in the nation's leading "judicial hellhole," courts throw out most baseless lawsuits early in the process, and the system usually does work.

Did you all get that? Only one verdict in Madison County, Illinois was over $250,000 over a seven year period. What litigation crisis?

The Administration is campaigning for tort limitations the same way it campaigned for the presidency: using fear, truth distortions, and out and out mistruths. As usual, it relies on the public not paying attention. Some of us do.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Wrong medicine: caps:"

According to a 2004 study by the Congressional Budget Office, malpractice costs account for less than 2 percent of total health care spending. The same study estimates that even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs -- the president's plan certainly doesn't claim to save that much -- would lower health care costs by less than half of 1 percent.

The answers to lowering the fiscal effects of medical malpractice lie not with arbitrarily limiting compensation to injured patients but with bolstering identification and discipline of dangerous doctors and better regulation of the medical malpractice insurance industry.

So why, oh why, does our president want to limit people's access to the courts? Could there be another reason, such as giving yet another break to Big Insurance and Big Business? Nah.

Sidney Zion weighs in on the President's deplorable effort to limit access to the courts. Some great zingers:

"This war [on trial lawyers] is apparently Bush's top domestic priority. It's not the economy, stupid, it's the trial lawyers!"


"He [the president, while in Madison County, Illinois] paraded a few doctors who said they no longer could practice in Madison, as the verdicts had raised their malpractice insurance sky-high.

"Chances are these docs got the same vetting from the White House as Bernard Kerik, but so what? The cons and neocons of the American Tort Reform Association are the bunco artists of our time, and as such fly from facts as Dracula from the cross."


"Frivolous malpractice suits are rare. The reason? They cost too much to file. Trial lawyers finance these cases themselves, with contingent fees - which the tort reformers would abolish.

"The cap - and this is the real skinny - would leave young people and the elderly, those without economic damages because they have no incomes - without recourse to the courts. All they have is pain and suffering, and even without caps, it's difficult to get lawyers."


"Only 2% of patients injured by physician negligence sue. Which means these victimized doctors may be getting away with 98% of their malpractice."

I have been remiss in not blogging in opposition to the Administration's current tort limitation effort, as I had two years ago, when I first started this blog. I'll try to do a better job in the future.