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Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2003 / 25 Shevat, 5763

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Consumer Reports

You can't always eat what you want

But you still can, for a while | Americans are supposed to live and let live, refrain from coercion, and mind their own business. Telling someone else how to live or work-or, in a case settled last week, eat-has long been a quick way to a well-deserved punch in the mouth. Last week, though, two greedy families, a lawyer, and a misguided judge took us all a little farther down the widening path of "getting up in everybody's business."

In the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, two families named Pelman and Bradley saw their "personal injury" lawsuit dismissed. The party they were suing hadn't injured them, or anybody else-though this shouldn't shock anyone who understands the greed lottery that torts have become.

The first real shock is that their bizarre claim got as far as it did. The second is that Judge Robert Sweet delivered a decision that included detailed instruction to the Pelmans and Bradleys (and anyone else who wants in on the big-dollar action) on how to more successfully file their strange claims. And the third shock is that they would claim what they did at all: They asserted that McDonald's is to blame for their obesity and sundry health problems, because they themselves ate too much.

One assumes that America's cake decorators and grocery store clerks were too shallow in the pockets to go after.

The mind reels at this case-and not simply because so many Americans now blame others for the consequences of their own choices. No, the problem is that certain representatives of the court-attorney Samuel Hirsch, and Judge Robert Sweet, in this case-are unwilling to imagine the consequences of their actions. Thanks to their ministrations, a claim that could make the tobacco lawsuits look like small change has been seriously entertained for adjudication, and invited back when its roughest edges have been burred off.

Judge Sweet dismissed the silly charges-but not because they were silly. The press didn't seem to have read the thick decision, and instead played it for laughs if they covered it at all. CBS and others focused on the judge's one funny quote, that diners should know what happens if they seek "to satiate their appetite with a surfeit of supersized McDonald's products," ha, ha. The Washington Post managed to squeeze in a squib on page 13 of the Style section.

What they missed was that Judge Sweet was actually sympathetic with the motivation behind the case, so much so that he took 64 pages to dismiss it.

By contrast, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation fits on two pages. The key Supreme Court decision in the 2000 election fits on seven.

The fundamental problem with the judge's dismissal is that he offered thousands of words and complex defenses where a clear rejection was called for; that is, that American courts shall not entertain claims based on "I don't like you," instead of a violation of law.

Or he could have set his pen aside when they walked in and said, "You're a disgrace. Get out of my courtroom."

Judge Sweet went lovingly over every detail. He indicated precisely where the claims failed to show violation of law. He suggested other laws that the defendant might be breaking, if only the plaintiffs would do more research. On page 63, he listed a number of specific offenses the plaintiffs might consider and file over later. He even included a book-report-style statement on childhood obesity for no discernable reason other than to create a written record for some lawyer who will later come fishing for credibility in the case law.

Silly-minded organizations such as the ironically named Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have serious agendas that already include prohibitive taxes on foods they deem unhealthy. How they must have been, um, salivating at the notion that a judge might turn the screws on McDonald's, a company providing food of which they disapprove-even though it's food at a reasonable price that people buy millions of times a day because they want to.

The possibilities suggested by this case were surely not lost on them. As a part of their agenda against many consumer choices, they understand that nearly any goals that fly in the face of popular opinion and common sense can eventually be hammered through with the right public relations.

For instance, they understand the powerful appeal of asserting that chronic problems like being overweight are caused by others, and not by failing to help oneself.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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10/04/02: A Few Thoughts On The News
09/27/02: Goodbye To All That: The terrible, wide war that must be fought
09/20/02: The Florida Lesson: We need better voters, not better machines
09/13/02: A few thoughts on the news
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08/13/02: The Dangerous Lull on Iraq ... And how today's delay proves why 9/11 had to happen
07/26/02: Where's Honest Debate on Judge Owen?: NOW members should demand better of President Kim Gandy
07/19/02: A Secret No One Can Keep: Why Osama bin Laden is still alive
07/09/02: Don't forget why Bush was elected
06/28/02: The bravest pop culture icon in the war on terror
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06/06/02: Stay Awake, Grads, I'm Almost Done Talking: Life, and How to Live It
05/31/02: See This Movie: "The Sum of All Fears" is a wake-up call
05/24/02: Richard Simmons for President? What really motivates the fat-taxers
05/13/02: The Carnival at the FAIR: "Unbiased" acquires a new definition
04/22/02: Bottled And Sold: Economic Confidence Under a Screw-top
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04/02/02: The Right to Do Wrong: The Creator, A Clockwork Orange, and war
03/26/02: The Big Story No One Talks About: Why isn't Washington serious about airport security?
03/18/02: Worlds Away: A snapshot of anti-Semitism in the Moslem world
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02/22/02: And Then What?: Fear and Loathing Around the Corner
02/15/02: Al Gore and the real root cause of terrorism
02/08/02: A few thoughts on the news
02/01/02: Ready, Aim, Cloud The Issue: An irresponsible report on "terrorism" from the Brady Center
01/28/02: Discretion and Art, Part 2
01/16/02: Discretion and Art
01/08/02: Desperate Dems
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11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
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08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
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07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long