Sunday, September 26, 2004

Reply to Don Cole of Albany's Northwest-News

Last week Don Cole's "Right Way" column was headlined "Democrats take hate to new, ugly level." He says "Democrats have raised the strategy of hate to a new level, but hate will not win in political campaigns or in any endeavor in life." Here's a quick question for you Don: which political party was it that sent out memos to its candidates in the early 1990's advising them to call their opponents "sick, pathetic, liberal, incompetent, tax-spending traitors?" Hint: their Presidential candidate this year is the one whose convention delegates wore Purple Heart Band-Aids to mock war wounds his opponent had received. And Don, which Party is the one that advised its candidates to use the following to describe their opponents: "decay, sick, unionized bureaucracy, greed, corruption, radical, permissive, bizarre?" Hint: their Presidential candidate is the one who had "push" telephone polls in the South Carolina primary in 2000 asking if voters would vote for his opponent, Senator John McCain, if they knew that he had a black baby born out of wedlock. (The truth was that McCain and his wife had adopted an orphan from Bangladesh, but the voters being called weren't told that.)

As for your condemnation of Michael Moore and the movie Fahrenheit 9-11, if that movie were shown on television the Sunday night before the election, Bush wouldn't draw 20 percent of the vote on election day. Why? Because the star of the movie is none other than George W. Bush, uncensored and uncut. When voters see him, his family members and cronies buddying up to the Saudis who invested in his companies, when they see the Bush people trying to appease members of the Taliban who came to Texas seeking financing for an oil pipeline, they will be sick to their stomachs. And when they see him sitting on a stool in a first grade classroom in Florida with a blank look on his face for five minutes after he has been told that a second tower has been hit and America is under attack, they will wonder how on earth Bush can ever lay claim to being a responsible or competent commander in chief.

Don, if your headline had been accurate, it would have said "Republicans take hypocrisy to new, ugly level." I've got a $1,000 bet for you, loser donates to the charity of the winner's choice: you get hooked up to a polygraph and I'll ask you ten "yes or no" questions about George Bush and the Republican Party, starting with "Are $400 billion annual deficits good for America?" and ending with "If Gore had won the election, would you have approved of him going for a month long vacation on August 7, 2001, and doing absolutely nothing about terrorism the day after receiving a Presidential Daily Brief titled "Osama Bin Laden Determined to Attack within the United States?" If you can answer with the Republican party line to all 10 questions without making the needle jump, I'll donate to your charity. If you miss five or more, you donate to mine. We'll call a score of 6 to 9 a tie and we'll each donate $500.00. I await your call.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Letter to Albany Herald- what our soldiers lacked in Iraq

Date: Thu, 23 Sep 2004 01:23:31 -0400
From: James Finkelstein

Recently this paper published a letter attacking me for informing your readers about essential equipment not provided to Marine Reservists, including those from the 4th Civil Affairs Group (CAG) from Anacostia, D.C., and soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart when they were sent to invade Iraq on March 20, 2003. The fact that the Humvees had no armor and were canvas covered wasn't disputed by Zell Miller or the Republican Administration- in fact, the Herald published a column in the Summer of 2004 by Senator Miller in which he bragged that the MCLB Albany was just now getting around to putting armor on those vehicles to protect our Marines in Iraq. When the column was published, I wondered why no one in the press thought to ask Senator Miller why, as a former Marine and as a member of the only body authorized by the Constitution to raise armies and declare war, Congress waited to give the Marine Corps money to put armor on their Humvees- waited until after the invasion, after the war, and after our troops had been sent out on patrols in a mortally dangerous environment during the last year and a half. When my son came home August 18, 2003, he showed me pictures of the canvas covered Humvee in which he traveled all over central Iraq, including An Nasiriya, Hillah, Al Kut, Baghdad, and other cities. He and other Marines slept in it for a solid month before they were able to secure Republican Guard barracks in Kut.

As for the body armor that our troops were sent off without, numerous stories in the press last winter reported that parents were scrambling to contact manufacturers to pay $1,000 for the life saving ceramic vests- vests with which the members of the 4th CAG and other Marine and Army reserve units were not provided the day President Bush gave the order to wage war. When I met with career soldiers at Ft. Stewart on June 16, 2004, they handed me lists of the items of equipment which they lacked when they were ordered to invade Iraq. I was astounded that body armor, armored vehicles for patrol, sufficient ammunition, ammunition clips, and working radio equipment were on the lists, as I would have assumed that no modern American force would ever be sent into combat without those items. As I drove through Ft. Stewart, I saw row after row of Humvees in desert camouflage parked in holding areas-and 90 percent of them had canvas tops.

Hogwash, Mr. _______? Tell that to the career officers and enlisted- all with 10 years or more in service- who handed me their lists. As for your comment that "War and killing are not only necessary on occasion, they're also noble," I think that the families of over 1,000 dead Americans and several thousand wounded, not to mention several hundred thousand Marines and soldiers who have come back from Iraq in the last 16 months, might find that comment pretty hard to stomach.

Of course, you undercut your argument when you first said that the Marines had all the equipment they needed, then in the next paragraph blamed the shortfalls on President Clinton's "enormous slashing" of budgets. As it happens, the President who started downsizing our military when the Cold War ended was named Bush and the Secretary of Defense who initiated the "enormous slashing" of Defense budgets was named Cheney. And the Party which has controlled Congress the last 10 years, which spent our defense dollars on submarines and jet fighters designed to fight the Soviet military of 1985, while leaving individual soldiers and Marines without the ammunition, weapons, and body armor they needed- that is the Republican Party. They can talk the talk, but they haven't walked the walk- unless it's a walk to a fundraiser where Lockheed or General Dynamics hands them a check to keep those big ticket items on the menu while leaving the grunts out in the cold. If you find that hard to digest, then just ask anyone who came back from Iraq last year.

James Finkelstein
Albany, Georgia

Sunday, September 12, 2004


While campaigning for re-election, President Bush has lambasted trial lawyers and reiterated the canard that "runaway jury awards" and "frivolous lawsuits" are responsible for skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums. His sole solution: a $250,000 cap on general damages in medical malpractice awards. However, Mr. Bush proposes no legislation that would reduce or even cap medical malpractice premiums, so the only winners under his proposal would be insurance companies who write the policies.

Astonishingly, the media has given President Bush a free pass on this issue by failing to ask him the most simple questions. (1) What were the total premiums collected by malpractice insurers last year? (2) What were the total payouts from jury verdicts last year? (3) What were the total costs of defending "frivolous" lawsuits- which I will define as a lawsuit which was meritless, the proof of which was the plaintiff recovered nothing and the case was dismissed before trial? (4) Although the President didn't mention it, what were the total dollars paid out in pretrial settlements to plaintiffs?

If the President is right, then the annual dollar totals from jury verdicts, settlements, and frivolous suits would approach or even exceed the total collected in premiums. Strangely, with all of the public posturing of the President and other Republican candidates for office, with numerous op-ed columns by columnists, physicians and insurance executives, I haven't been able to find any source where these figures are provided. Last Spring I offered to donate $1,000 to the charity of choice of a local physician who had just written an op-ed column decrying the malpractice crisis caused by "runaway jury awards." My offer was contingent on his producing figures from Georgia's insurance commissioner proving that his insurance company paid out in jury verdicts and pretrial settlements an amount more than 80% of what it collected in malpractice premiums last year. I knew that my money was safe, because I had taken the time to telephone Georgia's Insurance Commissioner's Office. I was somewhat surprised to find out that our Insurance Commissioner doesn't bother to collect that kind of information from insurance companies.

Meanwhile, Senators Kerry and Edwards can be expected to repeat the trial lawyers' mantra that President Bush's plan would be unfair to injured patients by preventing them from recovering complete compensation for their pain and suffering. The Democratic ticket has no new proposals to reform the system, and they are happy to leave it as is. Their argument is that it works to prevent medical errors while fairly compensating patients injured by medical negligence.

However, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards aren't going to discuss the unpleasant fact that malpractice cases are so expensive to pursue, and negligence is frequently so difficult to prove, the great majority of injured patients or consumers receive no compensation. If a potential client's injuries aren't severe or medical negligence isn't apparent, the case just isn't worth taking.
The truth is that neither side is being honest and neither has a proposal that will fix the malpractice premium problems faced in the medical community. Although there is probably not a "crisis" from runaway jury awards or frivolous lawsuits, there is a very real malpractice premium problem. We all pay the price when doctors like ob-gyn's leave their specialty. There is no question that the costs of outrageous premiums paid by doctors, hospitals, and drug companies are being passed along to the consumers- including individual patients, their insurers, and governments.

My solution? Switch from the current tort system where negligence must be proved and expensive lawsuits are the norm, and instead utilize a no fault system funded by a one percent sales tax on all medical services and all medical products. All medical malpractice insurance premiums will be eliminated for doctors, nurses, and hospitals. In addition, all product liability insurance for drug companies would be eliminated. A trust fund will be created from the proceeds of the sales tax- at roughly $1.4 trillion in annual health care spending, that would create an annual fund of $14 billion.

By "no fault" I mean that any person injured during a medical procedure, including drug side effects, will recover some compensation on a set scale (somewhat similar to Workers Compensation, but with much higher dollar amounts) whether or not the doctor, hospital, or drug manufacturer was negligent. The injured patient would receive an award to be determined by a three person panel: one from the group of consumers; one from the medical community; and one from the judicial branch of government (including administrative law judges employed by the government and retired judges). Lawyers will be permitted in the process but not required, and procedures for collecting from the fund will be made simple enough for the average lay person to utilize. There will be no need for defense lawyers, because the recovery is "no fault" and it will come from the fund, not from the insurer for a medical provider.

You might think of it as being something like the flight insurance that used to be sold at airports- travelers would pay $1.00 for $100,000 in life insurance. If an insured's plane went down, his family collected a set amount without having to prove negligence on the part of the pilot, airline, or plane manufacturer.

The result? Doctors will no longer have to give up delivering babies or waste scarce resources practicing overly defensive medicine. Patients will know that if they are injured or worse as a result of a medical procedure or drug reaction, they or their families will recover without having to prove fault and without having to hire attorneys. Instead of a very few patients collecting a large amount of money (a third or more of which would go to their attorneys), all injured patients would recover something. Just as important, medical consumers, businesses that cover their employees' health insurance, and local, state and federal governments will all see enormous savings as total expenditures for health care fall sharply.

And in response to anyone who argues that our current system is needed to prevent doctors from making mistakes, I suggest that instead of relying on cumbersome, lengthy, expensive, and rare lawsuits to deter malpractice, we utilize a much more inexpensive method: posting on an Internet web site information on the injuries sustained by a doctor's patients (without disclosing the names of the patients) and the amount of the awards paid out for injured patients. That should be be incentive enough to prevent malpractice. This proposal would have the additional benefit of alerting the public to bad doctors whose negligent acts never see the light of day in today's tort system because the negligence goes undiscovered or the injuries aren't great enough to entice a lawyer to take on the case.

AUTHOR'S DISCLOSURE: This proposal comes from a plaintiff's trial lawyer with a currently pending medical malpractice lawsuit. If it were to become law, I would lose money. Defense law firms would lose money. Insurance companies would lose money. Everybody else- patients, doctors, hospitals, drug companies, businesses, and state and federal governments- would end up better off by tens of billions of dollars. Let me know what you think (

Attorney at Law
Albany, Georgia

Saturday, September 11, 2004


Scholar George W. Bush takes on Harvard Business School

This one is actually original (not passed to me by someone else). Feel free to post it and pass it on to your e-mail list.

The Presidential debates are not going to be compelling television. Everybody knows that President Bush can't handle simple questions at a press conference, so getting a coherent answer out of him in a debate will be well nigh impossible. Which is why I have come up with an improvement on our system of panelists asking open ended questions and candidates misunderestimating (joke!) them, ignoring them or sidestepping them. Here is my new, improved, debate format for dummies: multiple choice questions. I have 10 sample questions for the debate panelists to ask President Bush during the upcoming debates. Answers to the questions are at the end. (Hint: you won't go wrong with the second letter of the alphabet.)

1. Mr. President, on June 7, 1981, Israel sent a strike force of eight F-16's which destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in Osirik just before it came online and started enriching the plutonium necessary for Iraq to manufacture nuclear bombs. I'm not going to ask you to say the word "nuclear," so you can relax. When President Ronald Reagan, whom you recently declared is one of the greatest presidents in history, learned of Israel's pre-emptive strike on a country which was determined to wipe Israel off the map, he:

(a) Praised Israel's courage and initiative in removing an imminent nuclear threat from the arsenal of a genocidal madman who would assuredly have instigated a nuclear war in the Middle East.

(b) Angrily condemned the Israeli raid and cut off American arms sales to Israel because it had used American built jet fighters on the raid.

2. Mr. President, on December 20, 1983, Ronald Reagan sent special envoy Donald Rumsfeld, who is now your Secretary of Defense, to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein. When Mr. Rumsfeld met with Saddam, he:

(a) Informed him of the United States' displeasure with Iraq's starting a war against Iran to seize its oil fields and then condemned Saddam's horrible human rights record, including Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers in violation of international law.

(b) Shook hands with Saddam, renewed U.S. ties with Iraq, and asked Saddam what assistance in addition to military satellite intelligence and other support the United States could secretly provide to Iraq.

3. Mr. President, in 1990, four days before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, after Saddam had gassed tens of thousands of Iranians and Kurds, your father, President George H. W. Bush, and his Secretary of State, James Baker, had our ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, tell Saddam:

(a) "Kuwait is a sovereign nation and our country will not allow Iraq to wage aggressive war to invade Kuwait's territory or seize its oil wells."

(b) "I have direct instructions from President Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country.... We have no opinion on your Arab - Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960's, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America."

4. Mr. President, during the 2000 campaign you said that you wanted to return a large part of the surplus in tax cuts targeted towards the wealthiest taxpayers because it was their money. If most of the surplus belonged to the rich, then your Administration's policies indicate that you think the biggest part of the $500 billion annual deficit and the $7 trillion national debt belongs to and should be repaid by:

(a) The wealthiest Americans.

(b) Our children and grandchildren.

5. Mr. President, your position on government funded national catastrophic health insurance that would cover little children who need to raise tens of thousands of dollars for life saving operations is:

(a) We need to provide catastrophic health insurance for the children who are uninsured, because if we can afford to spend $100 billion a year rebuilding Iraq, including its hospitals and health care system, then we certainly can afford to take care of helpless children who need money for lifesaving operations.

(b) They are on their own, and their family and friends can try to raise the money for a life saving operation by putting out penny jars in local stores.

6. Mr. President, your economic policies and tax cuts for the wealthy have resulted in:

(a) A booming economy which has lifted all boats and brought unparalleled good times to the American people.

(b) A net loss of jobs for the first time since Herbert Hoover's administration, the largest trade deficits in history, the highest gasoline and oil prices in American history, the largest annual deficits in history, a large increase in the numbers of Americans without health insurance, and the collapse of huge corporations such as Enron and Worldcom.

7. Mr. President, in your last State of the Union speech you proposed an amendment to the Constitution which would:

(a) Eliminate the electoral college and allow the direct election of the President by the popular vote so that the candidate with the most votes will be elected.

(b) Prohibit States from determining which of their citizens may legally enter into marriage contracts.

8. Mr. President, on August 6, 2001, you were given a presidential daily brief with the title "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Within the United States." Upon receiving this news that the world's most wanted terrorist, who had orchestrated attacks on our embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the U.S. Cole near Yemen in 2000, intended to attack inside the United States you:

(a) Convened a meeting of the National Security Council, discussed plans for protecting Americans from terrorist attacks within our borders, then ordered the FBI and CIA to take every measure to coordinate their efforts and step up intelligence gathering operations.

(b) Left on August 7, 2001, for a month long vacation at your ranch in Crawford, Texas and took no action to protect the American people from the attacks which occurred on September 11th.

9. Mr. President, three years ago, on September 17, 2001, you said that you would get Osama bin Laden, "dead or alive." After making that promise you:

(a) Kept American forces focused on catching Osama bin Laden and brought him to America to stand trial for murder.

(b) Removed American Special Forces and their air support from the hunt for Osama in Afghanistan and sent them to Iraq to try to find an elusive Saddam Hussein.

10. Mr. President, the morning of September 11, 2001, after your chief of staff, Andrew Card, informed you that the nation was under attack, and during the time that two large buildings in New York were struck by airliners and were burning, the Pentagon was about to be hit by a third hijacked airliner, and a fourth plane was flying over Pennsylvania heading towards Washington, your reaction was to:

(a) Immediately get as much information on the situation as you could, find out what targets had been hit, how many more planes were reported hijacked or missing, what their potential targets were, and make the hard decision to have Air Force fighters divert or shoot down hijacked planes attacking American cities.

(b) sit on a stool in a 1st grade classroom for seven minutes and listen to a student read My Pet Goat.

ANSWERS: The answers to 1 through 10 are all (b)