June 15, 2006

The Asbestos Scam Artists Are on the Run; Congress Shouldn’t Short-Circuit Rooting Them Out

A subscription-only editorial that appeared Saturday in The Wall Street Journal tells us that the jig may finally be up on the asbestos litigation scam artists. If so, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

Most of the editorial borders on the funny, until you remember that these people have been attempting to bilk the justice system out of billions.

But there is a genuinely unfunny paragraph at the end, so make sure you get there:

The Asbestos Waterloo

As retreats go, few have matched the one now being conducted by promoters of the great silicosis and asbestos legal scam. Their flight was on full display this week in both Congress and a federal courtroom, with redolent details you couldn’t make up.

….. The rot at the heart of these suits is slowly but steadily being exposed, and now the co-conspirators are running for cover faster than Napoleon’s infantry.

….. House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield held his third hearing on silicosis fraud this week, with dramatic and sometimes hilarious results. The owners of two screening companies, RTS and Occupational Diagnostics, invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, bringing to five the number of people who’ve refused to answer Congressional questions. Mr. Whitfield noted that Heath Mason, the co-owner of a third screening company, N&M, couldn’t be found by federal marshals attempting to serve him a subpoena.

Meanwhile, representatives from the state departments of health in Texas and Mississippi were busy testifying about how all three companies, among others, had brazenly operated mobile X-ray vans in their states without authorization. One official described a game of cat and mouse, with some vans getting caught by inspectors, others evading capture. Keep in mind that lawyers — er, officers of the court — hired these outfits that were operating illegally.

Even more entertaining were two of the doctors hired by these fly-by-night firms, Glyn Hilbun and Robert Altmeyer, who offered the committee inventive new perspectives on the Hippocratic Oath. Dr. Altmeyer, a pulmonologist from West Virginia who worked for RTS, explained to Members that, even though he wasn’t licensed in Texas, he thought it was okay to read X-rays, examine patients and offer diagnoses in that state since he wasn’t “practicing medicine.” Dr. Altmeyer explained (as have many asbestos doctors recently) that he was simply a “consultant.” Which makes us wonder why anyone bothers to go to medical school.

Dr. Hilbun claimed he had never tested anyone for silicosis, even though his name appeared on numerous diagnoses.

….. All this neatly lays the groundwork for the week’s other main event, which took place in the federal courtroom in Philadelphia that currently has jurisdiction over all federal nonmalignant (noncancerous) asbestos claims. That docket is so big that nobody knows precisely how many claims there are; estimates range from 100,000 to 200,000 plaintiffs. In any event, this is where 46 asbestos defendants came together on Thursday to ask the judge to dismiss every claim, allowing them to be re-filed only if the lawyers can produce a credible doctor.

This great unraveling has been a long time coming, as evidence has built against many of the doctors Judge Jack accused of ginning up phony silicosis suits. The defense’s motion in Philadelphia singles out six players — who were also giants in asbestos diagnoses — as proof that tens of thousands of the pending federal claims are likely shams.

ccording to the Manville Trust, perhaps the most complete database of asbestos claims, the six combined have authored an astonishing 140,911 asbestos “diagnoses” — and the number is probably much higher. According to Dr. Harron’s own testimony, he’s reviewed X-rays in “between six and seven hundred thousand cases.” According to the good doctor, lawyers liked him because he was “fast” and “cheap.” That’s for sure.

If this isn’t the sort of evidence that would compel a court to dismiss claims, we’re not sure what is.

This is all especially relevant given the news that Senator Arlen Specter is now attempting to revive his federal asbestos trust fund — even holding a short-notice hearing this week. With every day bringing more evidence of the corruption behind these suits, it’s hard to believe that Congress would now want to legitimize them with a $140 billion federally administered payout program. Let’s get to the bottom of the fraud first.

Indeed. Root out the pests before opening up the feeding trough to legitimate claimants.

Bob Carter v. Al Gore on Climate Change: Game, Set, Match

Filed under: Economy,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:22 pm

Al Gore has met his vanquisher in Bob Carter.

This one is for the hard drive (HT Rush Limbaugh’s Radio Show; also available with more excerpts at the SOB Alliance), but this is the best quote:

Professor Bob Carter of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University, in Australia gives what, for many Canadians, is a surprising assessment: “Gore’s circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention.”

….. “The man is an embarrassment to US science and its many fine practitioners, a lot of whom know (but feel unable to state publicly) that his propaganda crusade is mostly based on junk science.”

But public attention turning into public ridicule, as appears to be happening as the junk science get revealed, is quite useful.

Paragraph of the Day: The Wall Street Journal on the Need to Choke off Inflation Despite the Begging

Filed under: Economy,Quotes, Etc. of the Day,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:44 am

From a Saturday editorial at OpinionJournal.com (yeah, it’s still true even though it’s Thursday — zheesh):

As this week’s market action attests, the stock market doesn’t much like talk of higher rates. But the history of the 1970s shows that elevated inflation is far more damaging to equities prices than are rate hikes. The market and the economy will be better off if Mr. Bernanke and the Fed get back to neutral rates before inflationary expectations take root in the behavior and expectations of businesses and individuals. The new Fed chief this week put himself in a tough but necessary position. If he doesn’t want to go down in history as the next Arthur Burns, he’ll just have to tough out the screaming and stay the course.

E-Mail to My Congressperson Advocating Universally Available Credit Freeze

June 29: The computer stolen from the Veterans Administration has been recovered, and per the FBI, the data was never accessed.

This was sent to Congresswoman Jean Schmidt yesterday when I learned that federal legislation limiting credit freezes to only cases of known identity theft appears to be rapidly making its way through the legislative process (links were not in original e-mail; slight revisions have been made to reflect that fact and to include more factual references):

Congresswoman Schmidt:

At one of your town meetings last year I asked you about credit freeze legislation. A credit freeze prohibits anyone besides you from accessing your credit file, period. If you have a freeze on, your credit files cannot be accessed by anyone unless you go through a procedure to unfreeze it. Upon hearing of it at the town meeting, you said that it seemed like a really good idea.

The credit freeze is the best tool available to prevent much of the damage of identity theft. Recognizing this benefit, 17 states, according to this USA Today article, have passed a credit-freeze law that allows anyone to freeze their accounts.

Unfortunately as the USAT article also notes, the proposed Financial Data Protection Act of 2006 (FDP — HR 3997; links to legislation often get moved), which is apparently making its way quickly through the House, will pre-empt all state laws and allow freezes only in cases of actual identity theft. This is classic “lock the barn door after the horse has escaped” thinking.

The idea of pre-empting what will surely soon be 50 different state laws on credit freeze procedures makes sense. But limiting freezes only to those who are actual victims of identity theft does not.

If the FDP Act passes in its current form, the millions of veterans and current servicemen, and millions of other Americans (Ohio University, with three affected groups; US Department of Energy; American Institute of CPAs; Hotels.com; The Archdiocese of Cincinnati; and there are many, many more) who have had the integrity of their personal data compromised due to data breaches just in the past few months would be prevented from doing what should be done to prevent new accounts and other services from being opened in their name — until someone actually inflicts damage on them.

There is a fundamental misconception at the three big credit bureaus (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax) who are responsible maintaining the integrity of and controlling access to our credit files. These three companies seem to think our credit information is their data. They are wrong; IT’S OUR DATA, and they just happen to have stewardship responsibilities over it. Universal access to the ability to put a credit freeze in place will establish the principle of “who owns the data” once and for all.

The current legislation allows for fee-free credit freezes and removals of freezes. The fee-free nature of credit freezes should remain even when the universal access you should insist on is permitted. My cable company, utility, and bank don’t charge me separately to see what’s in my account or to handle payments; it’s a part of their cost of doing business. Similarly, the costs involved in layering an already-developed credit-freeze system on top of current credit reporting procedures for all 50 states, and of maintaining that system, should be borne by the credit bureaus, and passed on to their financial services and other clients, if necessary, in the form of slightly higher fees.

Because the financial community, the government, and other datakeepers have manifestly failed to safeguard our data, and probably will occasionally continue to do so in the future despite their best efforts, consumers who wish to have the protection need to be able to padlock their credit files with a credit freeze to minimize the potential damage.

Many of your constituents, including the elderly, young children, and those who have no need to access their credit files are sitting ducks for identity thieves in the current system. The credit freeze will limit that vulnerability to the use of existing accounts, which can simply be closed by consumers when they became aware that their identity has been stolen.

I therefore encourage you to reject The FDP Act of 2006 unless it includes ironclad universal credit-freeze language.


UPDATE: This link indicates that 22 states have some kind of credit freeze in place.

UPDATE 2: Moderate Mainstream reminds me that the proper terminology is “We should have control over how our data is used and accessed” (the data on file at the credit bureaus is technically not OURS, as in we don’t own it; but we should have control over those who are safeguarding it at the credit bureaus.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (061506)

Free Links:

  • Psst, Dont Tell Anyone“According to the 2006 InfoWorld Compensation Survey, which polled 789 IT professionals, salaries are up 4.8 percent, the best showing in five years. Bonuses remain healthy.”
  • There’s no point in trying to ignore what Reuters calls aglobal equity meltdown” to the tune of $2 trillion. Of course, the media DID manage to ignore using the “meltdown” term when the NASDAQ ultimately dropped 75% off its early 2000 peak and other US equity indices headed south in a “meltdown” that amounted to many, many trillions more, didn’t they? But back to the current situation: I believe a correction is defined as a 10% drop, and we’re in that neighborhood now, while a bear market is a 20% drop, and we’re nowhere near there. I don’t want to minimize the suffering (believe me, it’s no fun watching your investments drop), but let’s ask why this is happening. I think the markets, in a bit of short-sightedness, don’t like the inflation-fighting that’s going on at the Fed and in other financial capitals. The inflation-fighting is occurring, according to people a lot smarter than me, primarily because Alan Greenspan didn’t raise interest rates fast enough in his final year or so. If Ben Bernanke and his compadres overseas tame the inflation monster and make it clear that this is exactly what they are doing, the markets will get over their pout, and could still have a very nice ride up during the last half of the year. If central bankers give in to the yappers who say rate hikes will choke off the expansion (and I don’t think they will) and hold back on rate increases, inflationary expectations could make a comeback, and we’ll pay dearly for the rest of the decade — and not just in the financial markets.
  • One sign that the markets believe that central banks are serious about fighting inflation is that gold, which had topped $700 an ounce, actually fell below $600 on Tuesday.
  • Interesting facts I learned in the process of reading about active Marine Mike McNamara’s council victory in Ward 2 in Grand Forks, ND on Tuesday — North Dakota does not have ANY voter registration, and local council and school district races do not identify what party a candidate belongs to.
  • A wireless phone call to the bullpen — The bullpen phone is going the way of the horse and buggy at Wrigley Field, the home of baseball’s Chicago Cubs. And yes, it’s ironic that the last ballpark with lights will be the first with wireless phones to the bullpen. But given that the bullpens at Wrigley are no more than about 50 yards from the dugouts, I’ve always wondered why they even needed the old-fashioned phones, let alone the newfangled gizmos. How about just shouting a little?
  • If you don’t like it, don’t eat there — In a classic example of what should be a “loser pays the other guy’s attorneys’ fees” lawsuit, the misnamed Center for Science in the Public Interest is suing KFC because it cooks with high-fat partially hydrogenated oil:

    CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson said it was harder to avoid trans fat at KFC than at other fast-food restaurants.

    Hey Mike, people who care about avoiding trans fats can avoid KFC. Zheesh.

Positivity: Man Survives 70 MPH Train Wreck

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:02 am

This Australian made it, even though the train ploughed into his vehicle at about 70 mph: