Notes on the Atrocities
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Wednesday, July 07, 2004  

The dark evil of trial lawyers

Thanks to successful branding by the plutocrats running the country, "trial lawyer" is now a dirty phrase. Pimps get better press. It wasn't always so, of course. A half-century ago, trial lawyers were the exalted defenders of the people. They were the Perry Masons, Thurgood Marshalls, and Atticus Finches. What stood between oppressive governments and or rapacious corporations were these lone warriors of justice.

Not that it matters, but the degredation of the trial lawyer is a lesson in the success of coporate consolidation of power. Thanks to intense lobbying, the federal government now functions as a client state that serves the needs of the world's largest companies. Politicians have deregulated industries to allow for consolidation and grotesque gigantism; they've cut taxes on the companies and those who ran them; and they've sheltered industrial sectors from undue risk. As the S&L and California energy scandals and the airline bail-outs demonstrated, it doesn't matter how badly managed or corrupt a sector is, the feds will make sure to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to bail it out.

Government has sold off many of its historic functions--those that defense contractors now fill, for example. It has stripped protections from and shifted taxes onto workers, and made sure that there's a fat underclass to do dangerous, hard work for inadequate pay. And finally, it has even allowed the corporations to gobble up all independent media--to cover its tracks. From the top to bottom, government now serves the interest of corporations.

Which brings us back to trial lawyers. They remain one of the last unhindered barriers to corporate profits. They ungraciously continue to sue the corrupt and incompentent companies whose products injure or kill their customers. Mostly these lawsuits don't do lasting harm, but settlements do cut into the bottom line. When corporate profits are damaged, so are the politicians who depend on them. And so the nefarious tormentors must be made to pay. Sorry, Atticus, but you're cutting into the bottom line. We're going to have to Max Cleland you.

Not that America will actually engage in such an exercise, but sensible voters might ask themselves why the GOP so despises trial lawyers. After all, their party was founded by one. It could be that they really do care deeply about the poor people who are conned by ambulance-chasing shysters, though it would represent the single instance when they cared about poor people. Or, it could be--just maybe--that trial lawyers are their political opponents, and stand in the way of the interests of their constituency of wealthy corporations. The logic is pretty easy to follow, but depending on voters to think that one through hasn't met with much success so far.

posted by Jeff | 12:32 PM |
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