LI, having a soft spot in our lungs, er, our heart for unfairly treated corporate behemoths – takes up the case of two victims today: W.R. Grace and Dresser.

W.R. Grace is mentioned by an article in this week’s Chemical Market Reporter, in an article hailing – or salivating over -- the coming breakthrough in Tort “Reform” legislation, in which little litigants everywhere will be forced to cram their iron lungs, their expensive pills, and their seedy little declining lives, as well as those of their worthless children, up their asses. These people have the gall to expect justice in a system that is built for profit. But as the CMR explains, breathlessly:

“Over 70 companies have been forced into bankruptcy by asbestos, including W.R. Grace & Co., and the problem seems to be growing as new claims continue to pour into the legal system.”

Now, that must hurt Bush-ites everywhere. Remember Reagan’s favorite entrepreneur, J. Peter Grace? Remember the award for ceos – the Grace award – given for outstanding service in the ripping off of the citizenry? Remember the town of Libby, Montana? That state that went whole heartedly for Mission Accomplished in the last election?

Here’s the first three grafs of a review of a book about Libby, written by a Mother Jones staffer, Andrea Peacock.

“It's never been easy to make a living in Libby, Mont. Citizens in this town of 12,000, tucked into the dense, damp conifer forests of northwestern Montana, have long scraped by on seasonal logging jobs and other sporadic work. So in the 1920s, when local entrepreneur Edward Alley discovered that a nearby vermiculite deposit yielded an efficient, lightweight insulation and fireproofing material, Libbyites were thrilled.

For decades, the mine -- dubbed Zonolite, like the brand-name insulation it produced -- offered the best jobs in town. Townspeople bragged that their local product had "a hundred and one uses"; they put it in their garden soil and their Little League ball fields, and said it could even be used to make mold-resistant whole-wheat bread. When the Zonolite mine was sold to the multinational company W.R. Grace in 1963, not much changed for the Libby workers. Vermiculite mining and processing was hard work, and terribly dusty, but the mine jobs continued to pay better, and last longer, than anything else around.

In the 1970s, some current and former mine workers started to notice some shortness of breath; gradually, they became tethered to oxygen tanks and bound to their homes. Some developed rare, excruciating cancers. Worse, their wives, kids, and even some Libby residents with no connection to the mine started to develop similar symptoms. Only a few doctors recognized the lesions on their patients' lungs for what they were: the signature symptom of asbestosis. It took dozens of painful deaths for Libby residents to admit that "their" company, W.R. Grace, had knowingly allowed its mine workers, its mine managers, and their families and neighbors to be poisoned with tremolite, a particularly nasty form of asbestos contained in Libby's vermiculite deposit.”

The disaster at Libby was revealed by a series of Seattle Post-Intelligencer articles . Excuse me for mentioning a po-dunk newspaper from Seattle – we should be keeping our eye on sophisticated news analysis of trial lawyers and such, as is purveyed by the Washington Post’s excellent Peter Baker, who has taken the simple expedient of not mixing tawdry stories of asbestos death with the really important news about the funding of political parties. I mean, that’s like mixing up Jerry Springer and some PBS news show! Let’s keep these things separate.
But LI, redneck to the last, doesn’t understand that program. We think that when, say 500 or so people die in a town due to a danger covered up by that town’s major employer, W.R. Grace, we should even look outside established news sources towards the po-dunk and the kooky. The editors of the WP must laugh to think that 500 or so people drowning in their lungs could even compare, in tragedy, to 70 corporations going bankrupt – why, the latter is tragedy on a national scale.

That is why we are blessed with a president who knows what is fair and what is “unfair.’ And when something is unfair, we must reform it. Reform is such a nice word. We are eager to see the Bank Robbery Reform act get through congress this year, too – you know, the one that doesn’t punish bank robbers for the unfortunate collateral casualties caused in the course of their profitable activities. It is, as our President would say, unfair to blame them – plus, look how many bank robbers have to spend thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars defending themselves in court!

As for poor Dresser – well, it all goes back to another Red State, the reddest – Alabama. Dresser was sued by five lousy employees of U.S. Pipe. This crew of weaklings developed cancers of the colon, asbestosis, and other so called diseases and some of them croaked before Bell vs. Dresser could finish. They had the gall to claim that spraying asbestos products sold by Dresser using equipment by Dresser had something to do with the obviously naturally occuring disease, asbestosis, and got a jury of gulls to believe them. If our president has had to walk the Stations of the Cross (and surely, as a son of Jesus Christ once removed, he has had to take up his cross, as a good Christian), his heart must have been wrung at the ungodly sum of 138 million the jury charged Dresser. And Dresser was only partly responsible, after all – it was their wholly owned and then spun off subsidiary, Harbison Walker Refractories, that mined the asbestos and used it in its products! HW, by the way, kindly put warning labels on its products in 1979 – although they had, admittedly, just a teensy bit of knowledge years beforehand that asbestos led to cancer

Well, company officials must feel pretty rueful. If they had just shelled out enough for a paint job on those peoples' trailors, that should have been enough. These aren’t golden parachute people, after all. As it is, Tort Reform is now more necessary than ever – otherwise, we will be taking money from productive people, people who run derivatives, people who have inherited wealth, blue bloods, Harvard graduates, and giving it to icky people from God knows where who are merely dying from asbestos poisoning. What type of economy would do that?


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