Wednesday December 7, 2011

Anyone familiar with John Grisham's "The Appeal," about a lawsuit pressed against a ruthless chemical company on behalf of residents of a rural Mississippi town devastated by pollution, might be amazed today at the story's prescience.

The novel was written just before the financial meltdown that ushered in the Great Recession. That is, long before Occupy Wall Street movement became an expression of rage against corporate power, arrogance and greed.

The lawyer turned best selling author described in unsettling detail the tactics of Big Business and Big Money and their collaborations with irrational or cynical "conservative" politics. He shows how they can combine to overwhelm and destroy average American workers and vilify or bankrupt those who would defend these victims of Gilded Age capitalism in the courts.

This is especially true at the appellate level in the state and federal courts, which have long been a target of well-financed campaigns to pack these review courts with reactionary justices.

Today, of course, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is mounting an assault on environmental, workplace, financial sector, consumer and other regulations that only government can enforce, with the backing of a fair-minded court system. Without these referees, in other words, the "little guy" can expect nothing but the shaft, and nothing approaching justice.


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"The Appeal" paints a sickening picture of how easily money can pollute both communities and the political process, and it sends a powerful message to everyone of voting age. The message is that government in a modern society can no more eliminate regulations and eviscerate agencies like the EPA than it can disband police forces and fire departments.

The notion that we actually "save tax dollars" by following such a policy -- one advocated by more than one current presidential candidate -- is folly at any time. But it becomes sheer lunacy whenever we are confronted with reminders of the horrible consequences of unregulated capitalism.

When toxic substances are found in toys or drinking water and in our air, we never have to wonder if there is a powerful lobby buying politicians and preventing needed regulation, legislation or retention of agency personnel to monitor industry and prevent abuses.

Those behind-the-scenes special interests are a given in our economic system; the question is, are their excesses being countered by government and through the courts?

When those abuses occur and go unchecked it means that lawmakers and governors or presidents are not doing their jobs. And at bottom, that the voters are not doing theirs.