The big business of asbestos litigation is encroaching upon the livelihood of Iowa's small businesses. Small companies with as few as 20 employees are finding themselves mired in this unending legal morass. The process is so broken and unwieldy that those individuals who have contracted illnesses through asbestos exposure are not being helped. Instead, funds are being parceled out to anyone who has ever been exposed to asbestos in any way - regardless of whether or not they are sick.

The majority of the people filing claims against asbestos manufacturers are entirely healthy. They may or may not have been exposed to asbestos, yet they show no evidence of asbestos-related diseases. They are joining suits to hedge against possible future illnesses that may not be covered due to statutes of limitations. The result has been a glut of filings, more than 200,000 cases pending today, leading to a depletion of funds set aside to deal with truly sick individuals. In short, sick people are not getting the level of help they need and healthy people are receiving benefits with no guarantee of future assistance if they get sick later.

The avalanche of asbestos litigation has forced more than 60 companies into bankruptcy, many of them in the last 24 months. They simply cannot withstand the crushing financial burden. That means new sources of revenue are being sought to maintain the funds to carry a growing load of financial claims.

With the pool of big corporate targets "drying up," smaller firms are now under siege. They have been targeted as peripheral participants in this unending legal saga.

A "peripheral" participant is any business whose product or service had some type of relationship to asbestos, no matter how insignificant. Of course, this blows the doors open to many types of small businesses. For example, a business could be liable if it ever sold products containing asbestos, or if a firm provided a work environment with asbestos in it - even if this occurred before asbestos was deemed harmful. These "peripheral" participants would include a staggering number of hardware stores, construction-related businesses, and car-repair shops, not to mention plumbers and various other trades.

Small-business owners can't afford armies of lawyers. In general, their insurance coverage couldn't handle the loss of a major lawsuit. Many simply elect to pay a totally unmerited settlement rather than risk losing a large-scale lawsuit and going bankrupt. But still, there have been casualties and the list is growing.

Many of the asbestos lawsuits are "inventory claims" - filed on behalf of hundreds or even thousands of claimants. These claims often include only a handful of truly sick asbestos victims. It's hard to fault someone exposed to asbestos who, although currently healthy, does not want to be shut out by statutes of limitations. Yet how do we deal with the opportunists who may or may not have been exposed, but hop on for the ride in hopes of some extra cash?

Sadly, the current mess means that thousands of asbestos-disease victims and their survivors are being victimized again. They are collecting only a fraction of the settlements awarded because the system cannot handle the excessive load created by healthy claimants.

The asbestos litigation problem is certainly not going away. The Los Angeles Times recently estimated that the number of people expected to file injury claims could eventually reach 2.5 million, and "the economic toll of asbestos could run as high as $200 billion, higher than estimates for all Superfund sites combined, Hurricane Andrew, or the September 11 terrorist attacks."

Not once but twice the Supreme Court of the United States has condemned the asbestos-litigation quagmire as a problem that is beyond repair by the judicial system. The Supreme Court has strongly urged that Congress pass legislation setting up a system outside the courts to apply medical criteria to each claim and screen out the claims of people who are clearly not suffering from asbestos diseases.

Hopefully Congress will act soon to create such a system. Ideally, legislation would waive the statute of limitations on asbestos claims so that those exposed have a safety net in the future if they truly become ill. An orderly system would restore order and fairness to the asbestos-claims process. It would also restore justice for those who are truly ill and protect thousands of small businesses from becoming the next victims of the asbestos saga.

Karen Kerrigan, Chairperson
Small Business Survival Committee
Washington, D.C.

Harkin Should Give Nominees a Fair Trial


Democrats in the U.S. Senate are denying a confirmation vote on many of President Bush's judicial nominees. One of these is Miguel Estrada who, despite impeccable judicial credentials, has been discredited in every imaginable way.

When I contacted Senator Tom Harkin on this issue, he claimed that Mr. Estrada "has refused to answer even the most basic questions about his judicial philosophy and his opinions on Supreme Court cases" even though Mr. Estrada has answered every appropriate question he has been asked. The only questions he has refused to answer are those that pertain to his personal political views, which clearly should not be used to measure his judicial competency.

Senator Harkin also claims that he cannot make "informed decisions on the nomination" because he "has not viewed key memoranda prepared by Mr. Estrada when he was in the solicitors general's office," even though these documents are protected by attorney/client privilege and, therefore, will never be released.

Senator Harkin's deceptive reasoning and truth-twisting tactics reveal that he has no intention of giving President Bush's nominees a fair trial in the U.S. Senate. I wonder how his constituents feels about that?

Chad Thompson
Iowa Family Policy Center
Pleasant Hill, Iowa

Peace Movement Supports Individuals in Military


There is something very important that I, as a peace activist, would like people to understand. I do support the troops. I am concerned about their welfare. I support the troops but not the job they were given. No one is blaming the troops. It is not their fault. I didn't want the war to start because I object to the loss of human life, including Americans!

I am not against the troops! I am against killing Iraqis. I am against any killing. I am against violence. I want the troops back in one piece, but unfortunately, it is too late for that. Mr. Bush is the one with the blood on his hands to send them. He has their blood on his hands in addition to the Iraqi blood on his hands. Mr. Bush is killing our service people, and it is a crying shame. Please understand, I support the troops and am concerned about their safety. I extend my sympathy to the families of all the service people and the victims of 9/11. I also extend my sympathy to Iraqi families who have been watching their children die off one at a time from sanctions, and from contamination due to the depleted uranium we use in our weapons. I extend sympathy to the Iraqi families who are "accidentally" blown up by our government.

We have a mess on our hands because violence begets violence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. learned from Gandhi that hate can only be successfully fought with love. It is hard, but nonviolence is the only way. The problem of Saddam Hussein could only be fought with nonviolent means. We did not listen to King, or Gandhi, or Jesus Christ ("Love your enemies") when Mr. Bush embarked on this war. We did not listen to reason, to logic, or to the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. At the protest of some members of Congress, the president embarked on the war listening to ego, hatred, racism, fear, anger, and revenge.

I protest the war because war only kills. War does not discriminate. It kills on all sides. It kills innocent children and families. War kills because it is death. It is a crime on humanity. A quote from the children's book, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, says, "Men and boys always want to fight. They are always looking for a reason to go to war. It is the saddest thing. They have this abiding notion that war is fun. And no history lesson will convince them differently. But soon he found out the truth ... that war is hell ... pure hell."

War is about death, not pride. I cannot be proud to kill. We need to question this issue of "pride" so people don't have to die. I am proud to be an American because it is a great country. Its beauty is unsurpassed. Our heritage of democratic principles is fantastic. I am not proud of our legacy of the genocide of our indigenous people and/or the enslavement of African people, however. So I am proud to be an American but I also realize we have our faults like any other country. So let it be said I love my country but I do not love what my country is doing to Iraq. The people in that country are innocent. Let's stop killing them.

Now we have a problem. Our precious young people are getting killed. The peace movement supports the individuals in the military. We want them back at home, alive. We want them unscathed, unscathed from physical injury and unscathed from psychological damage from the horror of war, and we want them to have good benefits when they return to civilian life. We support the troops. They are innocent people, risking their lives. The peace movement wants this war to stop. We want the insanity to stop. Send the troops home to their families and friends. Stop their pain. Stop the killing. Stop the terror. Save our troops! Bring them back alive, now.

Pamela Pilcher Spencer
Davenport

Bush Destroying America


All patriotic Americans must support our president, George W. Bush. We must trust that Mr. Bush knows what is right for America.

Long after 9/11, Mr. Bush's popularity declined drastically when he failed in his promise to get Bin Laden, the economy was in bad shape, stock values had decreased 35 percent, the surplus he inherited was gone, and unemployment had doubled. So Bush decided another war was needed to gain back his popularity. Therefore, he chose Saddam and Iraq over North Korea and Iran. Patriotic Americans supported George W. when he said that Saddam and Iraq were a threat to American security. The rest of the world disagreed. Patriotic Americans know that the rest of the world - France, Germany, Russia, etc. - betrayed the number-one superpower America for not going along with the one who knows best: George W. Bush. Patriotic Americans must support President Bush even though the pope, Catholic and Protestant churches, and other religious organizations have told him over and over that war with Iraq is evil and wrong.

Patriotic Americans, let us support our wonderful and great president, George W. Bush, while he is destroying America, which Saddam and Bin Laden couldn't dream of doing.

Jimmie Jones
Bettendorf

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