Friday, August 05, 2011

Susan Saladoff's "Hot Coffee"

The amount of money that's spent on television on a political campaign has a[n] enormous effect on the outcome. And in fact in 2000, the statistics showed that the side that spent the most money won about 90% of the time.
--Kenneth Canfield, Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission

Spoiler alert: some details lie ahead that if I  knew beforehand wouldn't ruin viewing for me, but everyone's different.

Susan Saladoff
Those who know me know that I place a premium on information; it's why I feel understanding the fourth estate is so crucial for everyday people. They'd also tell you that my opinion of lawyers is like that of many; they're like those creepy ultra deep-water sea creatures, serving some sort of function in the universe. With that out of the way, there are good lawyers, and Susan Saladoff's one of them. A former civil attorney, her film, Hot Coffee, is one of the best I've seen in recent memory. I think her movie should be required viewing in junior high school civics and for everyday people in general because it employs several of the principles that I believe media must have if it's to serve the interests of everyday people:

1. Exposes the mechanisms through which power flexes its muscles.

2. Names names; who was/is responsible, what they did, and when. Also, if possible and taking a Watergate page, what they knew and when they knew it, and chain of command.

3. When it comes to understanding the way power works, probably the single most important investigatory principle and practice, and borrowing again from Watergate, this time from Mark "Deep Throat" Felt, follow the money.

As an aside, while power has always exercised the various channels it controls, since the economic meltdown of 2008 (EM08), I think the stakes for everyday people have risen significantly; risk has only grown along with uncertainty (today, the Dow dropped over 500 points as worries about the EU crisis and American instability have finally caught religion, or so it would seem; stay tuned). What this means is that corporations, despite sitting on skyscraper piles of money, aren't going to spend to create jobs. What it also means is that they are going to hedge their bets harder on anything and everything that can bleed money, which means torts.

For everyday people, going into litigation is intimidating and overwhelming, largely because of ignorance. There's a part in Hot Coffee that speaks to this when several people on the street are asked a simple question: "What's a tort?" Their answers, while amusing in their fumfering, make a point, because torts are without a doubt something that every school should educate a student about. Now think about sports; would you go into a game for fairly high stakes without knowing the rules, the fundamentals and without practicing? A tort, and specifically, the way the legal system has been gamed by power, is illustrative of the way real politics and the legal system works in America; but for everyday people, it's a game they know nothing about, because 1) The system is rigged to allow power to work largely out of view, and 2) our culture encourages and fosters superficiality, distraction and mis-directed values away from power.

In an example of mis-directed values, what steams me is that poker players get demonized as degenerates, but a poker game at a reputable casino or card house is fair, because going in you know the house's rake, and aside from that, it's you against the competition, everyone must abide by the rules, and there are eyes everywhere to ensure that. You can't even cuss at the table.

The image of poker players as degenerates versus, say, the US Chamber of Commerce, which floods the political system with corporate lobby money, speaks to the snow job con that's an example of the mis-directed values and morals of our twisted culture. As Saladoff shows, it is economics that impels the legal system, not lofty, idealistic notions of "justice" or "fairness," much less the grand visions of the American forefathers. If our schools were to relevantly prepare young people for the real world, they would do things like screen movies such as Hot Coffee and have roiling discussions in order to ignite the flame of critical thinking. Instead, our schools leave kids as the suckers at the poker table, not knowing a thing, or deluded into thinking they know what's going on.

My latest jag is that with defense, auto, healthcare, big-agri, and of course, banking, we are now the largest welfare state in history. I've gone into it before, but toward the end of Hot Coffee, Lisa Gourley, the mother of Colin and one of the case studies (one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen, making me simultaneously furious and sad), says a very important thing; that because of the way  medical lawsuits have been capped in this country -- largely in response to big corp's "tort reform" pr onslaught and their prostitute politicians that led the legislative charge -- that although the Gourleys won their malpractice case, in the face of the jury awarding them millions, because of the cap, it was reduced. As a result, their costs beyond the reduced settlement amount now are paid by Medicare. In other words, the taxpayers.

Once again, here we have large corporations taking the profits, but socializing the losses. That's welfare, folks.

One other thing; I didn't know Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) from Adam until Saladoff's film, but at about 32 minutes in, he has the balls to call out the US Chamber of Commerce -- a very powerful lobby on behalf of some of the largest corporations going. Big hat tip here, and as with Saladoff being a lawyer with a sense of justice and fairness, we could use more politicians like Braley.

Last, I have a personal stake in the spirit of Hot Coffee; my family went through a malpractice, wrongful death suit. I wrote the argument paper that was used verbatim by our (pedestrian) lawyer and was the "lead" on behalf of my family. That suit dragged on for five years and, of course, was capped. Think about that, a cap on a life. That's economics in the real world, not supply and demand curve mumbo jumbo. But once again, following Mark Felt's (Watergate's "Deep Throat") dictum to follow the money, and I think I know what's going on. With armies of accountants and lawyers advising the corporations, the formula goes something like this; filibuster the case until the end of the statute of limitations and pay out settlements from interest earning accounts. In other words, maximize the earning power of your investment accounts against litigation. And as in the case of the Gourleys, as much as possible, get an edge on the game by fixing it a'la forced arbitration to eliminate the power of juries, and socialize risks and losses through capped settlements. Again, that's economics and politics in the real world.

Brilliantly thought out and executed, Susan Saladoff lays out Hot Coffee in a masterful, William Kuntsler in his heyday manner. That this is her first film is remarkable, as it's very well directed and produced; that it's such a valuable contribution to knowing the enemy makes it essential to anyone who values fairness.

See this movie; it's an education in and of itself. I can't recommend it highly enough.
It really opened my eyes [as] to how the system works.
--Lisa Gourley