Law Office Of Michael G. O’Neill, The Types of Cases We Handle
Just Ranting About Stuff

So what about liberals?

As stated before, the word liberal derives from the Latin word for "free." This is most obvious in the English word "liberty." But what connection is there between the idea of liberty and the idea of being a liberal? It depends on who you talk to. I would say that liberals generally endorse the idea of live and let live, that people should be free to do as they please, as long as they don't harm others. As nice an idea as this is, it doesn't really help analyze the political dialogue, since the term "liberal" in a political sense means something totally different anyway.

I think that political liberals generally endorse the idea of government assisting and assuring that all individuals participate equally in society, economically, politically, and socially. Again, however, this really depends on who you talk to. I once heard Rush Limbaugh (don't laugh, there really are people who take his ideas seriously) say that liberals stand for raising taxes and spending money. No surprise there, but he went on to "explain" that liberals won't admit that this is what they stand for, in fact, they will deny it, but don't believe them. Neat trick here, eh? Define your opponent. This is a cheap rhetorical trick. A rhetorical trick is simply a form of "false truth," meaning a way to frame an argument so that you win by definition, or frame an issue so that your view is, by definition, correct.

I want to talk more about this idea of raising taxes and spending money, but I will do it elsewhere (and provide a link here when I do), because I don't want to digress from the subject of present discussion.

Let's recap. A conservative wants to keep things the way they are, to preserve the current (or former) state of affairs. Since a liberal is by common usage is juxtaposed to conservative, then we should say that liberals want to change to present state of affairs to something else. These are again oversimplifications, but they are useful for analysis, because they often point to contradictions and hypocrisy, which are the strongest indicators that someone is trying to put something over on someone else.

For example, let's take the issue of so called tort reform. This is generally supported by Republicans, who are usually associated with conservatism. Notice how the term itself "reform" has been chosen? Why is this term used? The basic principle behind tort reform is to limit somebody's right to sue somebody else. Why is this called "reform"? Do we call taxes "income reform"? Well this whole subject of naming ideas is again a side issue, which I hope to discuss at length because it is really crucial to understand. But let's get back to what we were talking about.

Earlier I wrote that when we talk about conservative in the sense of "keeping or conserving," we have to identify what is being kept or conserved. I suggested that conservatives would say that they are trying to preserve certain cherished principles of liberty and freedom, while others might accuse conservatives of attempting to preserve certain inequalities that exist in our society. Let's test these competing ideas against the tort reform movement.

The traditional rule of tort law is that a person who is harmed by another is entitled to be compensated for the harm. This is a simple idea and is easy to understand by all. If I borrow a book from you and lose it, I should replace it with the identical book. Nothing more and nothing less. If your book was a dog eared paperback, I shouldn't have to buy you a brand spanking new leather bound hardcover edition. By the same token, if yours was the fancy leather bound version, it wouldn't be right for me to replace it with a beat up paperback from a used book dealer. I don't think anybody would argue with these ideas.

Let's say that instead of a book I accidently injure your arm. Let's say I cause some nerve injury, but that there is a procedure that is capable of restoring your arm to full capacity. Nobody would suggest that I shouldn't have to pay for that procedure.

But let's say that instead of just some nerve injury, I accidently cause you to lose your arm. In this case, there is no procedure available to replace it. What then? Should you just grin (or grimace) and bear the accident? Under traditional principles of tort law, a jury decides what is the proper compensation for the loss of the arm. Juries have been doing this for hundreds of years, and while there is no doubt that it is imperfect and imprecise, consider the alternatives.

But now, conservatives what to change traditional tort law and take away from the juries the job of deciding just compensation. Instead, the conservatives want the legislature to decide, in advance, without any evidence or facts, that some number, typically about $250,000, is the maximum amount that can be awarded for any injury whatsoever. Of course, a jury would be free to award less, but never more.

What a radical idea this is! Now ask yourself, is this an attempt to preserve some traditional form of liberty or freedom, or is it an effort to preserve (or create) a form of inequality? You decide.

I will say this. The right to be compensated for loss or injury is a liberty interest and it is protected by the constitution. Tort reform, as it is called, is a limitation on this liberty interest. Ask yourself why?

Well, $250,000 is a lot of money, isn't it? Hah! Let's examine THAT idea! Here is something very interesting that I stumbled across the other day. Calpers is the country's (and so probably the world's) largest pension fund. All of the money in Calpers belongs to workers. It is the California state retirement fund, so all the money in it belongs to present and retired state workers, mostly ordinary people. So you would think that Calpers has the interest of the working Joe at heart? It just makes sense, doesn't it.

Now, Calpers manages billions and billions of dollars and a lot of that money is in the stock market. Calpers owns over 5 million shares of Sprint. Some of the shareholders of Sprint proposed that Sprint modify its charter to limit the pay of the company's CEO to 50 times the average salary of Sprint employees. Sounds fair to me. How much is that? Well, 50 times minimum wage is over $500,000 per year. That MINIMUM WAGE! Assume the average Sprint employee earns $30,000. 50 times that is $1.5 million per year. I would say that's not bad. Yet Calpers voted AGAINST this proposal! Why, because in Calper's words "Calpers believes the proposal is too restrictive and could impair the company's ability to attract and retain competent executives." Can you believe this? A measly $1.5 million would not be enough to hire a competent employee. Boy, you could have fooled me.

So, if $1.5 million a year is not enough pay for merely a competent executive, then what does that say about $250,000 to compensate a person for a lifetime of suffering? Put it this way. If you put the $250,000 in the bank, at current interest rates, you'd earn about $2,500 a year on your money, or about $50 a week. Woopee! Now imagine that you have been rendered a quadraplegic and you get $50 a week as compensation. Believe it or not, this is what many legislators are proposing, seriously, including your president.

To be continued...

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