Friday, June 30, 2006

Match Postponed Because of Sudden Outbreak of Sanity

In case you had not heard, a judge down in Florida ordered two attorneys to meet on the steps of the courthouse to play a game of rock-paper-scissors (or as I learned it Ro-cham-beau) in order to settle a dispute as to the location of a deposition.

Apparently, after receiving the order, the attorneys involved took a breath, realized just how silly they were actin, allowed sanity to prevail and negotiated an agreement. Thereby making the scheduled match moot. So there will be no game of rock-paper-scissors today.

Personally, I think the judge should insist that the order be followed, but it appears that he will not.

Pimps The Next Al Capone?

How did I miss the pimp tax announcement the other day? After watching the Daily Show early this morning, I went to check out the story to see what it really said.

Apparently Senator Charles Grassly wants to increase IRS funding by about $2 million for the agency to start an office dedicated to prosecuting pimps and prostitutes for failing to report and pay taxes on their illegal activities. As part of the bill, he wants to increase penalties against pimps and prostitutes. The one that draws the most attention is the provision where a pimp is liable for 10 years for each prostitute he/she fails to provide with a W-2 form.

And to add in the local angle, Carole Leigh, of BAYSWAN, has spoken out against. Ms. Leigh is an advocate for sex workers trying to make sure that the legal sex workers (or ones who she wants to help legalize) receive protections for their work as in any other job. In the CNN article, she was saying that although the idea was good, it threatened to spill over to legal sex workers instead of targeting underage girls and women who are forced into prostitution.

However, as someone (be warned, this would get a TV-MA rating) pointed out, prostitutes really seem to be independent contractors. And therefore, they should receive a 1099 and not a W-2 form. However, based on this definition, it would seem that if a traditional pimp (a la Huggy Bear) were involved, it looks like there is too much supervision involved. Although, after the EDD appeal I went to this week, I think it would make for an interesting hearing.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

You have to hand it to them.

By them, I mean the NRA. I disagree with many of their positions on gun ownership and what the government can do to regulate it (even though I seem to recall that the Second Amendment states something about a "well regulated militia" being part of the right to bear arms). But they have managed to sneak in another win.

Some may remember that the gun industry was recently immunized from lawsuits by a statue called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The law has two major components. The first is
To prohibit causes of action against manufacturers,
distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition
products, and their trade associations, for the harm solely
caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products
or ammunition products by others when the product functioned
as designed and intended.
The second was to ensure that all handguns sold be provided with a safety lock.

Apparently, this child lock was onerous to an industry, which is now immune from lawsuits to an extent few if any industries have ever been in this country, that the gun lobby just had to overturn it.

Apparently, they have passed the first hurdle to ending this abomination against lawful gun owners everywhere. Today, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill with an amendment deleting the safety lock provisions of the act.

The argument made by one of the bill's sponsors, Marilyn Musgrave, is that the gun locks do not stop accidental shootings. According to the CDC, there were 3,894 deaths between 1999 and 2003 which were caused by accidental shootings. Of those who died during that period, 787 were children. Opposing viewpoints can be found here (very simple site, but I have to say I like his reasoning) and here.

According to the bill's sponsor's arguments, gun owners are having to pay too high a price for not enough return. So what is the cost of a child safety lock? According to, a Washington State campaign to encourage the use of safety locks, the cost can range from $5 to $35 for a trigger lock or $40 to $400 for lock box. Apparently this is more expensive than the life of a person. Or as one study found, 52 people who would have survived had there been a safety lock on the weapon. So good of the Gun Lobby to look out for our pocket books that way.

Incidentally, I was unable to find out how much it costs the unintentional shootings is to the tax payer. According the Journal of the American Medical Association, the cost per admission of a gunshot wound was $17,000. When they looked at lifetime costs associated with the gunshot injuries, they found that more the costs rose to more than 2 billion dollars. Of the more than 2 billion dollars, 49% of that was paid for by the public. Thanks NRA and Congresswoman Musgrave for watching out for someone's pocketbook.

(Hat tip to Greedy Trial Lawyer.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

$430,000.00 And Counting

You would think that a property management company would know better. Apparently USA Properties Fund, Inc., and USA Multifamily Management, Inc. operate a residential building in Concord. Someone there thought that it was a good idea to remove the old asbestos ceilings from the units.

Not a problem, until you discover that the property managment companies decided to use uncertified laborers to do the job. The Bay Area Air Quality Managment District discovered this and fined the companies involved to the tune of $430,000.00, setting a new crecord.

Start the clock. In 15 years, everyone who worked on that job will file a claim for some sort of asbestos exposure related illness (from pleural plaques to mesothelioma). For which it is unlikely the property management companies will have insurance to cover, since most insurance carriers stopped providing coverage for asbestos injuries.

And, as the cherry on the top for the asbestos mills (both plaintiff and defense), the company that did the job, Synergy Environmental (aka Synergy Enterprises, Inc.), performed some 200 or more of these jobs.

Asbestos, the gift that keeps on giving.

Now... what would Limbaugh say about this if..

It wasn't him?

Apparently Mr. Limbaugh is still having trouble with drug seeking. Only this time, he has apparently moved on from pain killers to ED supplements.

His defense is that he wanted someone else's name on the perscription for privacy reasons. However, by having someone else's name on his perscription, he has possibly committed a crime. A crime which could put him in violation of his plea agreement.

So I wonder what the ditto head has to say about this.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Star Trek Quiz

Your results:
You are Jean-Luc Picard
Jean-Luc Picard
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Geordi LaForge
Will Riker
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Mr. Scott
Mr. Sulu
Beverly Crusher
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Deanna Troi
A lover of Shakespeare and other
fine literature. You have a decisive mind
and a firm hand in dealing with others.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

What a geek I am

Your results:
You are Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
Derrial Book (Shepherd)
Wash (Ship Pilot)
Inara Serra (Companion)
River (Stowaway)
A Reaver (Cannibal)
Honest and a defender of the innocent.
You sometimes make mistakes in judgment
but you are generally good and
would protect your crew from harm.

Click here to take the Serenity Personality Quiz

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Things I have learned doing probate

For the past few months, I have been helping to administer an estate. This has been my first foray into the probate process. And this is what I have learned:

1) If you think you have enough certified copies of the letters testamentary and death certificate, you only have half as many as you may need. Everyone needs one for their records when it comes to moving the decedent's money around and closing out accounts.

2) Whatever the bank tells you they need to close the accounts, make sure they put it in writing. Otherwise you will end up having to make multiple trips to the branch you are dealing. Despite the fact that people die everyday, it is surprising how poorly trained some bank managers are when it comes to trying to something simple.

3) Make up a portable file containing the death certificate, copy of the will, and the letters testamentary. And keep it with you, always. The one time I left my file at the office, everyone suddenly needed to see it.

4) Heirs suck. I'm dealing with seven main heirs. In life they all supposedly loved the man. In death, all they want is the money.

5) Have a stack of W-9 forms ready to go. Once you get an EIN from the IRS, everyone will need these as well when it comes time to closing out accounts.

Now, remember, these are only my observations. They should not substitute for the judgment of an attorney who represents you (which is not me.... unless you want to get in touch with me and retain me, buts thats something completely different).

You Think This Guy Is Going to Have Issues Later?

I really feel bad for this guy. He's had to go through a divorce and his mother's remarriage. Now he has to go through the ordeal of everybody talking about in court. And not just about where he will live or where he will go to school or the othe squabbles that divorced parents seem to engage.

Nope. He has to have everyone talking about his genitalia. His penis to be exact.

Apparently, his mother wants to have the boy circumcised. Not for a religious reason, although she did remarry to a Jewish man. She is claiming that the boy has suffered from series of infections because of the foreskin. The father is insisting that the boy has never suffered any problems and that the mother is doing it to butcher her son. There is an allegation by the mother that the biological father told her he did not want his son circumcised because his son is not a Jew.

There are two sides, of course, to the cirucumcision debate. A brief overview of them are found here and here. The American Association of Pediatrics Position is found here.

All this has resulted in a injuction hearing that will be heard by a Cook County, Illinois, judge sometime soon. Either way, this kid's life on the playground is not going to be fun this summer.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Whatever happened to candidates speaking for themself?

As I was sitting in the car today, stuck on the Bay Bridge coming back from early morning doctor's appointment, I was bombarded with election ads on the radio. One in particular kept playing over and over, or it seemed that way (or perhaps it was because I was channel surfing to get away from it).

It was for a candidate, John Dutra. It extolled his virtues, including mentioning how he managed to shake off his welfare past to become a successful entrepeneur. And then at the end, it stated that the ad was paid for by the Civil Justice Association.

So who is the Civil Justice Association? I went and looked them up on the web, since I was curious, and found out that they are a group that is interested in "tort reform". They are decrying in a May 24, 2006, press release how the "trial lawyers" are trying to buy the election for their friend by getting together and contributing $350,000.00 to the campaign of Dutra's rival, Ellen Corbett. (According to However, what the Civil Justice Association is not trumpeting in their press release is how much they are spending to get their friend elected. According the Contra Costa Times article, Civil Justice Association has dumped $300,000.00 into the race on Dutra's behalf, even if not into his coffers. Oddly enough, I do not see that little contribution trumpeted anywhere on the Civil Justice Association website.

So who is the Civil Justice Association? It is a political action committee sponsored by big business, in particular the oil and pharmaceutical companies. They're goal is to, among other things, protect busineses from litigation by capping damages, establishing bars to punitive damages under the rubric that "I only did what the government said to do", and weakening unfair compeition law - the laws which consumers have to protect themselves from unscrupulous business practices.

When they talk about the predatory trial lawyers out to sue everyone, think about what they really want to protect. They want to insulate Chevron, and other chemical/oil, companies from contaminating the environment. They want to eliminate the threat of punitives which punish coporations that demean, degrade, and poison people.

Makes one think twice about who they would vote for if the backers are the ones trying to escape liability.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Asbestos Claim Fund Legislation.. Or Is It?

I have very mixed feelings about asbestos litigation. I used to work, on the defense side, in it. There are some people who are legitimately sick and are suffering from asbestos exposure. There are, however, a great number of people who are exploiting the process to enrich themselves.

For instance, I depoed a guy who started working in the late 1970s as a union insulator (he also did a number of other jobs that did not involve working with asbestos, mainly cattle ranching). By that time it was known, by the unions in particular, that asbestos was causing damage and kiling people. However, instead of taking precautions, like wearing the masks that were available, the guy refused to. Not only that, but he meticulously kept records of ever type of insulation material he ever came in contact with. Round about 2004, he went over to a large plaintiff's firm which specializes in turning out asbestos cases by the gross. He was sent to a certain radiologist who looked at his x-ray, penciled in 1/0 in the box for ILO (see page 3 for the explanation) and a lawsuit was filed on his behalf. The rest of his medical records showed him to be a moderate smoker who, despite approximately 30 years of smoking between 1/2 to 1 pack a day, had no measurable impairment of his lung functions.

On the other side, I deposed a pleasant man who was clearly afraid of death. He was in his late 60s and had been a union plumber all his life, working primarily in residential homes. As I recall, he usually did work before the foundations were laid. He started work in the mid-1960s. He never really recorded what he used except to bill his customers. The invoices generated in the 1960s,1970s and early 1980s were largely gone. Why? He got rid of them as they no longer were useful for his business. As I recall, he was a smoker from the 1950s until the 1970s when his wife demanded he quit. He built a buisiness and raised a family. Then in 2003, he got mesothelioma.

The third case I recall, was a shipfitter/welder. He was one my first deposition. He could not remember anything that he did in over three decads of welding (1970 to 2002). His answers to interrogatories were filled with ship names. Some he remembered. Some he did not. Even on the ones where he could remember working, he could not for the life of him remember what part of the ship he worked (or even if he was working on a shop welding parts that were later sent to the ship in question). And then at the end, I remember asking him about his medical condition. He said that no treating doctor had ever told him that he had asbestosis, cancer, mesothelioma, or pleural plaques (these are four disease types that are linked to asbestos exposure). (The records would show that the same radiologist as in the case of the insulator had also put him down with ILO score of 1/0 with the standard notation of "marks consistent with interstitial fibrosis"). So then I asked him, after seeing if he had any other health complaints, why was he filing a law suit. He said, "So I could see if I had an asbestos disease." That just blew me away.

All three of these cases were filed by the same plaintiff's firm that specializes in mass torts, and particularly in asbestos litigation.

The name of the game, generally in asbestos litigation, is tag. If the plaintiff can remember seeing the product, or produce something that shows what it was, then typically the manufacturer, seller, or contractor/refinery who used it is on the hook. In all three of those cases, the plaintiffs got money from the client or clients I was representing. Even though the plaintiffs above could not remembering being in the same place, room, or portion of complex where my client's equipment was located.

Now in case 1 (the insulator), I was fairly mad about the outcome. Mainly because this guy knew what was going on. Yet, he was cynical enough about it that he essentially spent his life preparing for this lawsuit. And then client I represented decided, at the urging I suspect of my seniors (since I was the grunt at this firm) to make a deal and throw money at this guy. He walked away with a fairly sizeable recovery.

The same thing happened in case number 3 (the welder). Even though this guy had trouble remembering his wife's name, much less where he went to high school, he still walked away with a sizeable recovery, though not as large as the insulator who had his meticulous records.

The second gentleman, the plumber, ended up recovering as well. Though based on the way the depo went, and from what I know of the clients that I worked on in that case, he probably did little better than the other two. Mostly because he could not "tag" that one target who would pay the lionshare of the settlement/verdict. Had it been up to me, I would have whipped out the checkbook there and paid. He had confirmed, undisputed case of mesothelioma. The slides showed asbestos bodies in them. And yet, he probably did not do as well as he should have in comparison to the other two cases.

And this, based on testimony from plaintiff's lawyers, is probably true. According to the testimony of Steve Kazan, some asbestos litigation defendants are paying out more for asbestosis cases than they are for mesothelioma cases.

(It should be noted, there are thing which will affect recoveries in all personal injury cases. These include the age of the plaintiff, the amount of impairment, how much he is making, how much he has lost as a result of the impairment and etc.)

Based on those three cases, which of those should have been filed at all? Only number 2. As a matter of fact, I changed number 2 to make it more clear cut (the actual plumber had a cancer which studies have shown to be linked with, among other things, exposure to asbestos. The defense experts confirmed that he was suffering from the disease. In end, it changed the result almost nil as far as the evaluation of whether it should have been filed).

In my opinion, I think that trial lawyers/consumer rights attorneys/personal injury attorneys, have let us down in the course of the asbestos litigation saga. This is not to say that I expect attorneys to be altruistic. However, it seems that there are some firms in this country that have made a lifestyle of perpetuating the asbestos litigation by filing claims on behalf of people who have no impairment, only markers on their chest fims/CT scans that indicate exposure to asbestos.

As Mr. Kazan noted in his testimony, the reason for this is because of a shift in how asbestos cases came about. He stated,

Traditionally toxic tort litigation follows a medical model: a plaintiff sees a doctor to treat his illness or injury and then is referred to, or otherwise finds, a lawyer. Litigation screening substitutes an entrepreneurial model: the lawyer recruits the plaintiff – who usually feels fine, has no symptoms or impairment, and is unaware of any “injury” – and sends him to a screening company for an x-ray. The question is, what features of asbestos litigation have contributed most to this shift to an entrepreneurial model? I focus on three: the failure of courts to enforce the principle that a person should not have a tort claim unless he is “injured”; interstate forum shopping, that allows these claims to flow to pro-plaintiff courthouses with no connection to the plaintiff or the case; and consolidations that are intended to force the settlement of cases whether or not they have merit under state law.
This entrepneurial model has not exactly ended up finding the people it should be finding. Instead, it has become a way to essentially manufacture claims. It has lead to abuses, such as what happened in Texas last year when Judge Jack found that this practice, in a silicosis suit, was leading to the manufacture of claims. And this has lead to a backlash which does not benefit plaintiff's rights in general.

So where does that leave us? Essentially a mess (for one view, which I agree in part with is here). It leaves us in a situation where there are a lot of legitimately injured people, people who worked and were exposed through little or no fault of their own in many cases, having trouble getting compensated for the wrong done to them because we are flooding the dockets with cases brought by people who are not actually injured, but bare only the marker of exposure.

Will these people ever become ill, in some cases yes and in some no. In my opinion, do they deserve to be compensated? No, not until they show some sign of impairment or other illness.

Who is responsible for this? Basically, everyone. Some of the blame rests with lawyers who put greed above respect for the institution of tort law. Some of it rests with the insurance companies with their short sighted, next quarter view that is afraid of a protracted court fight that could cost more than a settlement. Some of it belongs to the companies themselves for not doing more, sooner to make sure that they protected the people using the materials. Some of it belongs to the judges who forgot that a personal injury claim was supposed to include an injury in fact.

So this is all a long prolog to what started this idea in my head today. For the past few years, there has been a push on in the U.S. Congress to pass an asbestos claims bill. Essentially, this would take problem of asbestos and make it a claims based process and not a litigation one. It would establish a fund and all persons who had a claim of an asbestos related injury would be referred to it and further suits would be preempted from being filed in state or federal court.

This is not the first time this has been done. For example, to deal with claims based on injury from vaccinations, there is a claim program. It is a streamlined process that looks to see if the injury is related to vaccines and if so what is the amount. Its essentially works as an administrative hearing. However, if the compensation is not fair to the claimant, after the exhaustion of the process, they can still file in state or federal court for their injury. The program seems to work.

The current asbestos bill, has been stalled for years. Last year it looked like their might be a compromise that would satisfy all parties. However that fell through.

So once again, Senator Hatch is trying to get a bill together which will end this litigation. However, to make it more palatable, senators are attempting to attach claims arising from the World Trade Center attack and Hurricane Katrina. And its not just the Republicans, with their tort reform drum beat, who seem to be supporting it. Senators Clinton and Landrieu have both been trying to add amendments to the bill to bring their constituents into the coverage.

Should they be covered? Probably not. The asbestos bill is meant to deal with the asbestos related litigation. The asbestos litigation is primarily driven by people whose occupations, or in some cases family members, exposed them to asbestos. Bringing in another group of people will simply be a drain on the resources f the fund, leaving us with two options. The first is the government taking over responsibility for guarranteeing the fund. This puts the burden on the taxpayer and the treasury, which quite frankly could use a little less burden. The second is that it goes bankrupt and no one gets compensated.

Hopefully, the senators will realize this and pass a bill that works to solve this mess.

SF Lawyer Scores A Big Win This Past Week

One of the local law firms, The Dolan Law Firm, took on a case of two Arab Americans who were suffering from harrasment in the workplace. After a six week trial, the jury deliberated for four hours. The case was heard in Alameda County in Department 19, under the title Issa v. Roadway Package System (which is now Fed Ex Ground).

At trial, The Dolan Law Firm's Christopher Dolan asked the jury to return a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $2.5 million each to compensate for the daily harassment the two suffered while working at Federal Express.

From what I have heard, the jury took four hours to deliberate and came back with a verdict on May 24. They ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The amount awarded? 5.5 million to each plaintiff.

What is interesting about this is that apparently there were no experts. Just the statements made by employees and managers of the company as well testimony of the two men who suffered the verbal humiliation for no other reason than they were born in Lebanon. The jury also found that punitives should be awarded.

A week later, the two sides were back at it. They argued the question of punitives to the jury on Thursday this week. Apparently, the jury just came back with a number.

As to the supervisors who were part of the problem, the jury awared the plaintiffs $56.00.

As to FedEx ground, who was ultimately responsible and failed to put into place a system to preven this from happeneing, the jury awarded $50,000,000.00 (that would fifty million if I am counting zeros correctly).

Something that makes this almost more amazing is that the two men who were being harassed, for an accident of birth, had gone to ten other law firms and a prestigious civil rights organization before finally going to Mr. Dolan's firm. All of them passed on the case. Mr. Dolan , and his staff, took the time to go out and find the evidence and the witnesses.

Unfortunately, there will be some who will look at this case and say it was a jury gone wild, that Alameda County, where the trial was held, is a judicial hellhole. They will belittle the case and the say that this is just another example of lawyers run amok and ruining businesses.

What people should see is that two men just wanted to work. Instead, according to the pleadings, they were insulted, given less profitable jobs than those who were not lebanese or accepted the abuse without protest, and derided for their perceived lifestyle choice for no other reason than the place where they were born. No one should have to go through that.

Congratulations Mr. Dolan on your win.

(For those who want to see the complaint, it is here in Tiff form or at the Alameda County Superior Court web site under case C-8411208)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Do we need a third party?

Today, at the Opinionjournal, Peggy Noonan asked the question of whether the United States is ready for a third party.

The problem is not that the two parties are polarized. In many ways they're closer than ever. The problem is that the parties in Washington, and the people on the ground in America, are polarized. There is an increasing and profound distance between the rulers of both parties and the people--between the elites and the grunts, between those in power and those who put them there.
On the ground in America, people worry terribly--really, there are people who actually worry about it every day--about endless, weird, gushing government spending. But in Washington, those in power--Republicans and Democrats--stand arm in arm as they spend and spend. (Part of the reason is that they think they can buy off your unhappiness one way or another. After all, it's worked in the past. A hunch: It's not going to work forever or much longer. They've really run that trick into the ground.)

And I think that she does have a point, especially when it comes to how close the two parties, at least at the national, have become on many issues. Only a few issues seem to really remain (abortion, the meaning of the second amendment and gay marriage are the ones I can think of). Both parties seem to be comfortable with spending the electorates money, sometimes wisely and sometims not. Twenty years ago, during the heyday of the Reagan Administration, who would have thought that the Republican Party would assume the mantle of not only upholding an entitlement program but of expanding it (e.g. Medicare Part D)?

Now, Noonan's question brought forth a response from a conservative blogger, Ace of Spades. In his response, he examines the Noonan's idea and rejects. His basic contention is that the system cannot support a third party, and that really the only option is for a revolution within the existing parties. He writes,
In Europe, new parties are created at the drop of a hat. In the American system, however -- which is a winner-take-all system, and a loser cannot gain marginal influence by joining with other parties -- third parties are generally unsuccessful and almost always marginal.
In America, a "third party" is created when someone has the balls to challenge the anti-voter consensus in one party and take over that party, installing a new pro-voter consensus.
That's exactly what Noonan's old boss, Ronald Reagan did. For those of you who are too young to remember, Reagan was despised and considered borderline lunatic for championing heretical, and supposedly dangerous, positions. Seeking not detente but victory in the Cold War? Insane! Punishing criminals with long jail sentences and even the death penalty, rather than coddling them and making excuses? Troglodytic! Neanderthalic!
Now there is something to his analysis. Our first past the post system does minimize alternative parties. While on the one hand, that is good (think about the nightmare that Italy's parliament went through for years). On the other handit does stifle alternatives.

However, although I agree with Noonan's position that the leaders of the national parties are out of touch with the people on the ground, I also agree with Ace of Spades in that it is very, very hard to have a third party under the form of government exists in the U.S. However, I think that his solution to the current problem, is not necessarily the only one.

What I am thinking of has happened before in U.S. history. At certain points in U.S. history, the political leadership of the national parties has become disconnected with its power base. It happened to the Whigs in the years leading up to the Civil War (or as it is officially known, the War of the Rebellion). It was the other half of the two party system, but because of disagreements, it splintered and its supporters eventually sorted themselves out into other parties. One of them still remains today: the Grand Old Party aka the Republican party.

While I do not think that this is imminent, as in I do not think it will happen this year, I do think that it is closer to happening than not. In particular, I think that the Democrative Party, which seems to have lost its way since the end of the Clinton Administration, is in danger of passing like the Whig party.

Would this be a bad thing? To me, it could be a good thing. As I've mentioned before, I do not know what the democrats are for. I know exactly what they are against. But what they have failed to do is lay out a strategy for moving this nation forward. In looking at the Republican 1994 Contract with America, it lays out in clear, simple terms exactly what the Republican Party stood for and what they were going to do when they got into office. In comparison, the 2006 Democratic Party wants our support yet they do not lay out what the plan is. They offer the 50 State Strategy and the Democratic Party Agenda. All these documents tell us are what the Democratic Party in very, very general terms. As a lay observer, it seems to me like this is a sign of party that has to keep things in very general terms because they cannot agree on a way to go forward. This way, by keeping the goals somewhat vague, all Democrats can say that they are working to this agenda.

Not only is the Democratic Party failing in giving a clear vision of what the future should be, it seems that they are not even willing to do the one thing that they are saying they will do. Take for example former Attorney General John Ashcroft. This was a man who was beaten by a dead man in an election. He is extremely conservative, opposing gay marriage, abortion, and many women's issues to name a few. All of these supposedly antithetical to the Democratic Party's platform. However, the Senate confirmed him. The Republican Party in 1992 managed to reject President Clinton's choices for cabinet positions, including two nominees for the position of Attorney General, over comparatively nanny problems. In looking at the two situations, which seems more serious? Failure to pay a tax (which was eventually voluntarily paid by one of the nominees upon discovering the error and before a law had been broken) or a person with an agenda to overthrow the law of the land and who had demonstrated a consistent disdain for civil rights.

For me, allowing the confirmation of Mr. Ashcroft as Attorney General was a sign of what the Democratic Party has become: weak-willed. Following Ashcroft, the Democrats allowed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. They have given us a presidential candidate who could not decide what he was for or when he was for it.

Instead, the national leadership when faced with a hard decision or a tough spot inevitably does the same thing: retreats only to complain later that the Republicans did it all wrong. Whatever happened to the notion of a party bucking the polls and leading? Deciding that perhaps losing, but putting up a fight, was worth doing? Sometimes the Fabian Strategy is the right one. But sometimes, there needs to be a 300 that blocks the way to show the rest that the fight, the cause, the principle is worth the struggle.

So maybe it is time for a third party to arise and take over as the progressive/liberal force in this country. One that is interested in actually governing and winning elections instead of whining about the Republicans being mean guys with bullies for campaign strategists.