29 June 2011


HOT COFFEE. Most everyone remembers the elderly woman who sued McDonald's after being served very hot coffee, as an example of frivolous lawsuits. I just learned, however, that there is much more to the story. According to a Washington Post article and a new documentary by filmmaker Susan Saladoff, on the day in question the elderly woman was in the passenger seat of a car picking up an order at a McDonald's drive-through window. She did not realize that her coffee had been brewed to 180 degrees Farenheit. In her startled pain, she spilled the coffee into her lap, generating third-degree burns "so severe her doctors worried she might not survive." As filmmaker Saladoff notes, "Look, everybody knows coffee is hot. But nobody expects that if you're buying coffee at the drive-through and you spill it on yourself, you're going to need skin grafts." Graphic photos of the burns inflicted on the elderly woman's legs appear in the film.

Further, the plaintiff did not sue for $2.9 million -- she sued for a mere $20,000 to cover her medical costs. It was the jury who awarded the larger sum, sending a message on behalf of consumers that corporations are not immune from the consequences of their own policies if the public is harmed. The compensatory and punative award was subsequently reduced to $640,000 by the presiding judge.

Saladoff's documentary, Hot Coffee, evolved from a short feature to a full-length documentary which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and is slated for airing on HBO.

DEFICIT REDUCTION. It's about time that someone in Washington grew a pair in standing up to Republican obstructionists. Conservatives have been petulantly stubborn in insisting that "any deficit reduction be limited to spending cuts, including reductions in benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and exclude additional revenues." In other words, the same old tired refrain of screwing the non-wealthy, while maintaining opulent tax breaks for the wealthy and for the large corporations which effectively dictate what happens on Capitol Hill.

Finally, however, "in a blunt challenge to Republicans in Congress, President Barack Obama insisted Wednesday that limiting selected tax breaks for oil companies and the super-wealthy must be part of any deficit reduction plan .... Obama said both parties must be prepared to 'take on their sacred cows' as part of the deficit-reduction negotiations." (Click on the link to watch the video of Obama's remarks.)

It is remarkable to me that regardless whether or not Republicans hold a majority in Congress, they are able to bully and stonewall and bluster until they (usually) get their way. Democrats tend to be more principled in representing the rights and needs of the electorate, but also more timid in doing so. All of which reinforces my long-held opinion that by and large, Republicans are corrupt, and Democrats are inept. One hopes that the leadership of a President who is well-schooled in the arts of compromise and negotiation will lead to a deal with which no one will be entirely happy, but everyone can live with. That's our best hope, given the vacuous myopia of voters who insist on electing conservatives who are in the pockets of corporations, and increasingly, the radical fringe Tea Party loonies who just want to wreck everything for the sake of seeing it all come down.

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