When courts of law forbid the truth
I started out writing about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report on the challenges in keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Centigrade. See Amy Brunvand’s Environews for an update. But among the many incomprehensibilities of the past month, three disparate but ultimately related things took over my keyboard:
An important lesson from Great Britain for the #MeToo movement caught my eye. Peter Hain, a member of the House of Lords, made public the name of British retail tycoon Philip Green, who spent £500,000 in legal fees to block the revelation of nondisclosure agreements and substantial payments he used to conceal the truth about serious and repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying on his part. The revelations caused a stir because the judge in the case had prevented the British Daily Telegraph from publishing details of its investigation into the accusations against Green. As a member of Parliament, however, Hain is shielded from such restrictions.
Prior to Hain’s revelations, the Telegraph wrote, “The accusations against the businessman, who cannot be identified, would be sure to reignite the #MeToo movement against the mistreatment of women, minorities and others by powerful employers.”
It seems that those who can afford it are allowed a special “innocent after proven guilty” status. The question is, is there a mechanism in the United States, similar to that which allowed Hain to speak out in Great Britain, that would allow us to strip the veil from these serial criminals?
Non-disclosure agreements are possibly the biggest enabler of serial criminals in history. From sexual crimes to financial fraud, defendants can essentially erase their criminal past by reaching lucrative non-disclosure agreements with their accusers. Donald Trump’s trail is littered with such agreements.
The first case to come to trial against Bayer’s Monsanto on charges of purposefully ignoring evidence that its glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup causes cancer ended in August with an award of $289 million to plaintiff DeWayne Johnson, who has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The amount was adjusted to $78 million when the judge denied Monsanto’s request for a retrial.
Monsanto thought it could keep Roundup from being classified as carcinogenic by gauging the dose to the “average” small print instruction-following user. They were shocked, apparently to the point of being in denial, when the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic. The problem is that small print instruction-following users (with their magnifying glasses) are few and far between. Now hundreds of cases of cancer caused by exposure to glyphosate are working their way through the courts; there may be thousands more glyphosate-caused illnesses that could be cases in the courts.
But just imagine the impact on sales of Roundup if the label clearly said “Probable Carcinogen.” That would be bad for Bayer/Monsanto’s economy. So they fought any accusations that glyphosate was carcinogenic with every under-handed trick in The Book of Under-Handed Tricks, written by the tobacco industry. Many of those dirty tricks were exposed and used as evidence in the successful California court case.
The only thing standing in the way of Monsanto sinking under a tsunami of such suits is the arcane rules of evidence and non-disclosure agreements that allow criminals to conceal evidence of their crimes.
The Pittsburgh Synagogue attack
It’s strange to actually be familiar with the scene of a violent massacre. I had my first bagel and lox at a Jewish deli in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where a mad gunman slaughtered 11 people as they were beginning services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in October. I wonder what could drive a person to such an act of evil.
Donald Trump said that the person(s) responsible for the Squirrel Hill attack should be put to death. I’m not sure if he really knows what he’s saying, or if he is in denial about his responsibility for the deaths in Pittsburgh, as well as the pipe bombs from Florida.
Similar to Monsanto, Trump would like to have the world judge his actions by their effect on the average person, rather than the most susceptible. Trump’s many violence-prone utterances should be ruled carcinogenic. Will some court of law hold him responsible for the actions his hateful words provoke?
John deJong is associate publisher of CATALYST.