Odds and Ends: Tort King’s Comeuppance; Brown vs. Barons of Education; Slandering Produce; Al Gore’s Math

Don’t Slander that Carrot!

Among the poisonous fallout from the Alar apple scare a decade ago is a spate of food libel laws. The New York Times reported on June 1 that 13 states have passed laws that make it easier to sue anyone who criticizes the food and agriculture industries. A feed industry spokesman said, “The laws don’t inhibit anyone from stating their opinion as long as, if they are challenged, they can prove it.” While the effect of such laws generally is to muzzle folks peddling faulty statistics and junk science, those of us who place a high value on freedom are more than a little concerned.

Brown vs. Barons of Education

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown is standing up to the powerful California Teachers Association, which has been working with the state legislature to force charter schools to unionize. Charter schools, by definition, are freed from many of the labor and educational regulations which have helped destroy conventional public schools in municipalities like Oakland and Los Angeles. Brown blasted compulsory unionization as violating the whole spirit of charter schools, and in a letter to the assemblyman sponsoring the bill he wrote, “As we all learned from the sorry experience of state-sanctioned bureaucracies in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, decentralization is crucial to both freedom and excellence.” Tough stuff. The LA Daily News was even tougher, calling the proposal “a union protection bill that doesn’t care squat about children.”

Gore-ism of the month:

“I certainly learned a great deal from 3,000 town hall meetings across my home state of Tennessee over a 16-year period” in Congress, the vice president told NPR’s Bob Edwards recently.

Do the math. That’s 187 town hall meetings per year, or a meeting in Tennessee every other day for 16 years, including weekends, holidays, vacations, and time spent running for president in 1988 and for vice president in 1992. Don’t forget the amount of time he had to spend in Washington as a member of Congress, which is a full-time job, or the hours spent burning the midnight oil writing Earth in the Balance. Makes you wonder where he found the time to invent the Internet.

Animal Rights Godfather

A firestorm of controversy erupted over Princeton’s hiring of Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher who has argued that infanticide may not necessarily be a bad thing, especially if a child is born with any sort of disability. Interestingly, babies with cleft palates might not be entitled to rights, but animals are. Turns out Singer is the Godfather of the animal rights movement. His 1975 book Animal Liberation touched off one of the more extreme elements of the environmental movement. According to Forbes, Singer recently petitioned the New Zealand Parliament to grant apes a number of civil rights, including the right to not be held in a zoo.

Tort King’s Comeuppance

California tort king Bill Lerach — poster boy for overly litigious trial lawyers nationwide — got his comeuppance when his firm agreed to pay $50 million to settle abuse of process charges. Lerach’s firm Milberg Weiss in 1990 named economic consulting firm Lexecon Inc. as one of 100 defendants in a class-action lawsuit over the failure of an S&L. They also named a top Lexecon executive as a defendant. Lexecon complained that they had been named as defendants because the executive had been an expert witness in a 1988 case Milberg Weiss lost. A federal jury agreed, and Milberg Weiss settled for the hefty sum minutes before the punitive damages hearing was to begin.

Greenspan on Free Trade

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan speaking in Dallas April 19: “I regret that trade policy has been inextricably linked with job creation. We try to promote free trade on the mistaken ground that it will create jobs. The reason should be that it enhances standards of living through the effects of competition on productivity.”

Greenspan continued: “It is difficult to find credible evidence that trade has impacted the level of total employment in this country over the long run. Indeed, we are currently experiencing the widest trade deficit in history with a level of unemployment close to record lows.”

Bumper sticker of the Month: If I Shouldn’t Eat Animals, Why Do They Make Them Out Of Meat?

Asleep at the Wheel

The federal government has identified drowsy drivers as the latest national scourge. On June 3 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Center on Sleep Disorders Research kicked off a public information campaign which will include advice about taking naps. Finally, bureaucrats giving advice on a subject they actually know something about!