Aaron Freiwald

Welcome to The Law Matters

This blog is dedicated to thought and discussion about how to make the law matter positively for individuals and families.

GMO: Put A Label On It!
Cubic-Orange

Can you imagine grocery shopping and having the supermarket manager tell you that the labels had been removed from all the products on the store’s shelves? Unthinkable! Unimaginable!

So why then is there such intense opposition to the idea that product labels should include disclosure of any genetically engineered ingredients? After all, public opinion overwhelmingly favors GMO labeling. A 2011 New York Times poll found 89 percent of Americans want labeling of GMO products. Separate polls conducted last year by MSNBC and ABC reached similar results: Nine of ten Americans favor mandatory GMO labeling.

Accurate product disclosure allows consumers to make informed choices. When it comes to food, we should be concerned and aware of what we are putting in our bodies and in our children’s bodies. Who could argue with an idea so obviously worthwhile?

Agricultural and chemical company interests and their allies oppose GMO labeling, that’s who. And these companies, led by industry bogeyman Monsanto, have the money, the political and lobbying muscle and the financial interest to fight against the popular will.

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Penn State Needed ‘Beautiful Souls’
Joe Paterno

We know how to feel about serial child rapist Gerry Sandusky. Horror at his crimes. Heartbreak for the victims. Relief that he was convicted at trial and is finally behind bars.

A bit more difficult is what to make of Joe Paterno and the rest of the senior university officials, who enabled Sandusky to prey on so many children for so long. Then came the comprehensive report of former FBI Director/Federal Judge Louis Freeh, issued late last week. Now there can be no doubt that Paterno and the others knew about Sandusky going back many years. The Freeh report also makes clear that Paterno and the others cared far more about protecting their beloved (and lucrative) football program than about the welfare of innocent children inexcusably violated by one of their own.

As Judge Freeh noted in his report: “The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. . . . [Paterno and others] failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”

Penn State revered its football program and its longtime father-figure, too. (“Pater” is Latin for father.) With this report, he now faces the opprobrium he well deserves. With all that we now know, it is easy and justified to loathe Paterno for his reckless failure to intervene and prevent countless assaults. It just seems shallow and callous anymore to fret over Paterno’s legacy as a football figure. He was a knowing co-conspirator in perhaps the worst serial pedophile scandal ever.

Most perplexing is what to make of everyone else who surely must have known, must have had some idea of what Sandusky was doing? What about the janitors who witnessed what they saw going on in the athletic center’s showers? What about the assistant coaches? The players? What about Mike McCreary, who was apparently an eyewitness to child rape, or McCreary’s father who learned what his son had seen and heard? There had to have been many, many individuals who knew something, even if not the entire story.

How could all those people remain silent? Why didn’t they do something? Why didn’t they say something? Hannah Arendt called this the “banality of evil” when trying to make sense of how millions of Germans could allow Eichmann and the Final Solution to take place right in front of their faces. Is that what was going on at Penn State?

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Debunking Another Tort Reform Myth
medical care costs

In the days after the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that Republicans would retake control of the United States Senate and then, as their top priority, would “repeal and replace Obamacare.” On July 1st, Fox News’ Chris Wallace challenged Sen. McConnell on how he would then deal with 30 million uninsured.

McConnell’s back-of-the-hand remark to Wallace – “That’s not the issue” – received the most attention in the media. Though insensitive, politically and otherwise, McConnell’s attempt to explain the “replace” part of his prescription was more worrisome.

First, McConnell said, Obamacare would be repealed. No ifs, ands or buts. Second, the Kentucky Republican promised, Obamacare would be replaced with “more modest reforms,” like “lawsuit reform,” which he claimed was necessary because of the “billions and billions” hospitals and doctors are paying every year because of lawsuits.

Tort reform? That old Republican chestnut? A cap on money damages as a way to solve the problems with our health care system by reducing health care costs? Why yes, McConnell and others say and have said for years as they receive steady donations from insurance companies and the Chamber of Commerce and others promoting talk of “frivolous lawsuits” and “jackpot juries” and “judicial hellholes.”

Nothing new in all this. What is new is fresh evidence, courtesy of Public Citizen, that the conservative cry for “lawsuit reform” is not the answer. Or, how about this, Senator McConnell: That old dog won’t hunt.

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Caveat Patients
Hospital-scene

For as long as I can remember, Consumer Reports has been the name most closely associated with straight up ratings of innumerable consumer products and services from dishwashers to cameras to, well, you name it. Last week, Consumer Reports issued its first-ever review of hospitals across the country with a focus on patient safety.

If you’re a patient or you might someday be a patient, if you’re a physician or a nurse or a hospital administrator or, frankly, if you’re breathing, these results should be disturbing.

Consumer Reports (CR) explains that its review is based on the “most current data available,” including “information from government and independent sources on 1,159 hospitals in 44 states.” That sounds pretty good, except that CR was only able to reliably consider data on 18 percent of hospitals. Clearly, 18 percent is not good.

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Exposing ALEC in Pennsylvania
Scales of Justice

Alec Baldwin is a star of the large and small screens. He is good and funny. ALEC, on the other hand, is no laughing matter. And there is nothing good about ALEC, unless you’re one of the big companies that funds its work and benefits from its efforts to curtail individual rights.

Most of us knew nothing about ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – until the Trayvon Martin controversy. ALEC led the way in Florida (and other states) lobbying for passing a Stand Your Ground law, which is now the basis for George Zimmerman’s defense against charges he shot shot dead an unarmed teenager.

If you don’t know much about ALEC, you should and a good place to start is a new report, issued earlier this month by the group Take Back Our Courts, a project of the Pennsylvania-based Keystone Progress. The report, “Justice Denied in Pennsylvania,” examines ALEC’s background and its agenda as well as its influence on Pennsylvania legislators. http://takingbackourcourts.org/justice-denied-in-pennsylvania/

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Monsanto Goes to College — And Buys the Professor, the Student Center . . .
College Campus

If you need a science expert to support your cause and you have unlimited cash, what better way to find an expert you can trust than to buy the university where the scientist works?

When it comes to food and agricultural policy, it is hard to know which raging debate burns hotter. Ballot initiatives and grass-roots campaigns in several states, including California, would require labeling on food products containing genetically modified components. Food products falsely claiming to be “natural” or to have health benefits face challenges in court. Policymakers receive more intense scrutiny over the way millions and millions of dollars are spent in subsidies and tax breaks for industrial agribusinesses.

When the media or litigators or regulators tackle one of these issues, they will look for experts in the agricultural “field” of interest, so to speak. That is where the rights and interests of consumers are vulnerable.

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A Supremely Important Election Issue
Supreme Court

Thanks to the Citizens United decision, unidentified super-wealthy donors will fund tens of millions of dollars worth of SuperPAC attack ads designed to distort and misrepresent the real differences between the two candidates for president. Here is an issue, then, about which there is no room for distortion.

The next president, with just one nomination, may dramatically affect the make up of the Supreme Court.

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Dylan and Freedom

There is so much one could say about the White House’s announcement yesterday that Bob Dylan is among this year’s distinguished recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this country’s highest civilian honor. Of course, I immediately thought of Dylan’s music.

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Citizens DisUnited
Voting booth

Today is election day in Pennsylvania. With Rick Santorum out of the Republican nomination hunt, Pennsylvania’s local media surely must have lost out on millions of dollars in political advertising booty.

That realization led to another revelation: The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, finding that corporations are persons and free to spend virtually without limit in political campaigns, is going to bring dramatic and dangerous change to our electoral process.

Because I represent individuals and families often against powerful and wealthy companies, I find myself sometimes pointing out that we are not the ones with influential lobbyists in Washington or Harrisburg. The Citizens United decision makes that observation sound anachronistic. No matter how powerful the army lined up in opposition, there was always the quaint notion that we all were entitled to the same vote on election day.

That just isn’t true anymore.

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Dow’s Rules, Dow Rules
Spraying-Pesticides

How many aces should one player be allowed to have?

As the New York Times reported last week, the EPA has denied a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to revoke approval of the herbicide 2,4-D. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/10/business/energy-environment/epa-denies-request-to-ban-24-d-a-popular-weed-killer.html. A story about an environmental advocacy group coming up short – - unfortunately, we have heard that tale before.

Further down in the Times’ article, however, comes the real story that explains what happened here and also why efforts to limit environmental and human exposures to toxic substances is such a challenge.

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