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(March 14, 2003 // link)

During the O.J. Simpson trial, I was asked to provide legal commentary for a local radio show. In analyzing the case from the sidelines, it quickly became apparent to me that the LAPD had put all of its investigative eggs in a single basket. They simply decided that O.J. did it, and set about to prove it. This left the prosecution with the unenviable task of plugging holes in an investigation designed around a suspect rather than prosecuting a suspect based on the evidence.

The Elizabeth Smart case should teach the same lesson. The police focused its attention on Richard Ricci, to such a degree that they almost ignored evidence from the actual kidnapper's ex-wife and the girl's little sister.

In the O.J. case, the police may have been correct; they certainly believe they were. We will never know for sure, though, because no other possibilities were considered. In Elizabeth Smart's case the police believed that they were correct as well. We now know that they were wrong. But for the fact that the girl's family kept the pressure on the police and got out information about the person who they believed did it, she might still be missing. Happily, she is not. This should be a lesson to investigators in other and future cases.

(March 13, 2003 // link)

Check out Slate's Saddameter. William Saletan's clever article features a meter that evaluates our odds of going to war on any given day. The great thing about this page is that Saletan writes a piece that shows you how he arrives at the number on the scale. The scale has been reading 99 out of 100 for the past several days. Today it's down to 98 on talk of extending the deadline and our efforts to line up security council votes.

(March 12, 2003 8:45 P.M. // link)

A group called the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights recently published a series of e-mail messages between New Jersey doctors who staged a strike to protest rising malpractice costs and the protest organizers. The e-mail messages advised doctors to wear white lab coats at public appearances, punish uncooperative colleagues by threatening a loss of referral business and to make sure that patients experience colossal inconvenience. Equally telling, the messages referred to Democratic legislators, trial lawyers and greedy patients as “prostitutes” and “blood suckers.” Their colleagues who refused to participate in the strike were called “scabs” and “parasites.”

Clearly the main goal of the strike was to manipulate public opinion and, according to Andrew Jacob who reported on the e-mails in the New York Times, this was the message of Hudson County Medical Society Vice President, Steven P. Shikiar, who warned his colleagues that they are “either with us or against us.”

Apparently, some the messages were pretty ugly and some of the more outrageous suggestions, such as denying healthcare to lawyers and legislators and their families were rejected out of hand.

The New Jersey physicians say that they have suffered a sharp increase in their medical malpractice premiums and they blame this increase on so-called “jackpot” awards. But, according to statistics reported in Mr. Jacob’s article, there were 205 cases which went to juries in New Jersey in 2002; doctors won 151 of those cases. Only 18 of the remaining cases resulted in verdicts over $1 million. Furthermore, the proposed cap would only reduce premiums by 6% because of the existence of other factors, such as investment losses and general industry problems.

Access to affordable healthcare, and to affordable health insurance, are two major domestic issues that need to be addressed nationally. Until the insurance industry is made to stop distorting the facts and inflaming the passions of healthcare providers and consumers alike, we are doomed to remain mired in legislation and litigation.

Interestingly, Richard Perle is suing Seymour Hersh over an article that Hersch wrote about Perle in the New Yorker magazine. Perle is the guy who referred to Hersh as "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist" in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, and he is suing Hersh in Great Britain. Why Great Britain? Because there is no first amendment in Great Britain and plaintiffs verdicts are common in media cases there. I guess we can put Mr. Perle down as being against tort reform.

(March 12, 2003 // link)

Back in December I wrote about the looming budget crisis in states across the country. At the time New Hampshire was projecting a $40 to $60 million budget deficit. That number is now projected to be as high as $70 to $100 million by experts who make such projections. Despite these projected deficit figures, and despite the draconian cuts being recommended by Governor Benson, the legislature has passed Rep. John Hunt’s ill-conceived charter school bill that includes a $4 million appropriation.

The sponsor of HB 135 is Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge. Hunt also wrote the existing charter school law which was passed in 1995. No charter schools have been successfully established under the existing law. Hunt blames the cumbersome process for approval. Others, like House Democratic leader Peter Burling of Cornish see the bill as an affront to local control.

Rep. Corey Corbin, District 79 representative, apparently supports the concept of charter schools, but can see the folly of the financial aspects of the bill. Rep. Corbin wrote about the fiscal irresponsibility of it all in a letter to PoliticsNH describing it as a toy that you really want for your kid, but can’t really afford. For most New Hampshire citizens and school districts it is not even a toy that we want, or that will even work.

Several sources of funds are being considered. In addition to the savings Governor Benson suggests we will be obtaining from eliminating “layers of bureaucracy” (i.e., state employee jobs), another plan for balancing the budget is the idea of “borrowing” from state employee retirement funds. I swear I am not making this up. The Governor is considering borrowing from the retirement funds of state employees. As if these funds have not taken enough of a beating in this economy, he is now considering depleting them further. This is as irrational as the Bush tax rebate being offered at the same time as he is proposing to start a war that could cost trillions of dollars. The whole thing reminds me of the fat cat corporate executives who write themselves big checks just before the company goes under. “Hey pal, I got mine, now &@$% you!”

(March 11, 2003 // link)

A story appeared in today's New York Times that the Bush administration is seeking one billion dollars for DNA testing. Apparently, the money will be used to handle a backlog of DNA testing in federal and state criminal cases. The money would be used to eliminate the current backlog of untested samples in on-going investigations and in cases of convicted criminals who are seeking testing to prove their innocence. If this money is allocated it will provide five million dollars to states to offset the cost of post-conviction testing. This is a good idea both for criminal prosecution and post-conviction testing. I hope Congress approves this funding.

I can't remember the last time the U. Conn. women's basketball team lost. But proving that all streaks do end, Villanova upended Connecticut to claim this Big East conference championship. The streak, the longest in women's Division I basketball history, ended at 70. U. Conn falls to 31-1 on the season heading into the NCAA tournament.

(March 10, 2003, 2:00 P.M. // link)

Last week North Korean jet fighters threatened a U.S. spyplane and even "painted" it with target acquiring radar. Our response was heightened rhetoric and the diversion of a carrier task group. Rather than engaging in direct talks with the North Koreans we are now flexing our military muscles on another front. (Let's review: Afghanistan, Philippines, North Korea and Iraq. Whew!!)

As if we don't have problems enough, Iran is beginning to remind us that they still exist, and that they may also have concerns about the effects of our attack on their neighbor. In fact, I'll bet they would be happy to open a southern front to support their Shi'ite brothers in the south of Iraq -- seems only natural if we are going to invite Turkey to assist the Kurds in the north.

All of these things are happening because we have no support for our actions and because we have no plan. It may all work itself out, but right now it looks to be going from bad to worse.

(March 10, 2003 // link)

The thirty billion dollar bribe being offered to Turkey to allow U.S. troops to cross its soil in the invasion of Iraq would go a long way to improve education in this country. The cost of meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student population continues to grow while the state and federal commitment to public education continues to shrink.

As if the funding crisis were not enough here in New Hampshire, the legislature is considering and is likely to pass the charter school bill. The governor is expected to sign it. This is the same bill that Governor Shaheen vetoed last year.

Proponents of the charter school bill believe that the charter schools will improve public education. The bill, however, offers no choice to local school districts or voters. In fact, the bill allows for a direct appeal to the State Board of Education for the creation of a charter school, bypassing the local school district. The existing charter school law requires local districts to establish charter schools if the voters pass a resolution directing them to do so. The new law eliminates this local connection and directs that the state board approve two requests per year and directs the establishment of those schools regardless of what the majority of the voters think.

I keep coming back to this theme of arrogance, I know, but one of the reasons that this new law was proposed is because in the years since the passage of the existing charter school law not one charter school has been established. Excuse me, but if the voters in local districts statewide don’t choose to establish a charter school, that should tell legislators that it isn’t wanted. Now the Republicans, based on their majority in the state house, are circumventing voters, circumventing local control, and are imposing their will on the rest of us. So much for local control.

They also say there will be no cost to local school districts, and that it won’t take away from the public school system. Not true. Every student taken from the public school not only decreases the money to support that system, but will diminish the environment in the life of the school community. Even though the charter school draws off students and the money that the state provides, the school districts must still have a building, heat, lights, supplies, teachers, and all of the assets necessary for running a school. These don’t go away.

Public education is under attack in this country. Rather than trying to make our system better, the present approach is to make it go away. Charter schools may work in large, urban areas where districts have hundreds of schools and the resources to create charter or magnet schools within their system. In New Hampshire there are no districts like that. All these proposals will do is weaken our system and spread our already paltry support for public education thinner.

(March 9, 2003 // link)

There have been several recent reports that documents turned over to the U.N. weapons inspectors by the U.S. were actually forged. Apparently, the fact that the documents were forged came to light because they were not particularly good forgeries, and the titles and descriptions of some of the purported Iraqi officials were inaccurate. The U.N. inspectors were quick to say that they believe that the U.S. intelligence services that submitted the bogus documents had been duped.

One such document purported to demonstrate that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger. The New York Times reported that Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that anomolies were found in the signatures, the letterhead, and the format of the document. The document was used by the U.S. and Great Britain to support their case against Iraq.

There have also been disputes about U.S. claims that Iraq was purchasing aluminum tubing. Apparently the U.S. claimed that the tubing was for the construction of a centrifuge; the Iraqis claim that the aluminum was for missile bodies. The fact is evidence to support claims of an Iraqi WMD program is thin. No one is claiming that the U.S. or Britain fabricated this evidence, but we certainly don't look good for having been duped. In some circles we are being called liars. I wonder how this will play in the Security Council and the Turkish parliament this week.

Governor Benson's choice for Human Rights Commission, Gary Daniels, has had his confirmation hearings delayed. Mr. Daniels has no business serving in state government, let alone the Human Rights Commission, based on his views. What bothers me most is the arrogance of the Governor in his appointments. Arrogance seems to be a common trait in elected Republicans and this is a serious threat to our form of government. Government by the people fails if you stop listening to the people. Hopefully, the Governor's Council, and in particular Councilor Burton, will keep reminding Mr. Benson that in this job the shareholders he serves demand integrity, not just profit.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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