She Had Me at Varadero and Carol City

Varadero, WSJ, Carol City, Dolphins, Pro-Surge and life begins before birth. No, these items were not pulled from a profile on a right-wing dating service. Incredibly, it is a list some of the background, interests and beliefs of a new columnist for the Miami Herald.

I was alerted to an interesting trend at the Miami Herald by a like-minded blog–albeit one with, hands-down, the best blogger-based look around–the 26th Parallel.

The trend is local columnists with a more conservative political outlook, Jackie Bueno Sosa and Glenn Garvin. Putting my own right-of center views aside [OK, right field corner], as a business model it makes sense that a newspaper have a certain contrarian perspective. During the Obama-age, common sense dictates that those critical of the administration’s philosophical views will have much more material to work with. Besides, the Obama-support angle was already being staked out rather aggressively by Leonard Pitts–his admiration is said to have inspired a new movie.

In the case of Ms Sosa–btw, where are we on the whole Miss / Ms / Mrs thing? I assume that Ms has evolved into the female version of Mr, i.e. not meant to denote marital status–one column in, I was a fan. She wrote:

I believe that Main Street is as responsible for the current economic crisis as Wall Street. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; that NFL play rules are beginning to coddle quarterbacks; and that all elected officials should be subject to term limits. I believe that man really did land on the moon; that history will redeem George W. Bush; that life begins after conception but before birth; and that nature will destroy us before we destroy it.

She then followed that up with a column which criticized jury awards:

The problem with that argument is it misconstrues the purpose of punitive damages, which date back to the 18th century. After British officers were involved in cases involving illegal searches and seizures, English courts for the first time said a jury would “have it in their power to give damages for more than the injury received — as punishment to the guilty, to deter from any such proceedings in the future. . . .”

Encouraging lawsuits may be a modern outcome of punitive damages, but it wasn’t part of the original intent. It’s time we return the punitive award to its roots. Split recovery wouldn’t be perfect, but the fairness it would bring to the process could be reward enough.

Politically, I have no idea which individuals to trust, but I can trust how a person argues. In the case of Ms Sosa, her arguments focused on incentives and the original intent of a law. To paraphrase the great Margaret Thatcher and Michael Corleone, this is a columnist the no-Obama-kool-aid crowd can do business with.

Columns referenced are copied in full at end of post.

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We shouldn’t leave luck up to chance

Posted on Mon, Feb. 23, 2009

BY JACKIE BUENO SOUSA

In the late 1970s, my family lived in a simple, but comfortable, three-bedroom house only blocks from the Hialeah Park Race Track. The neighborhood was full of kids, and on race days we’d sometimes sit for hours watching traffic pile up.

One day, as I played outdoors with some friends, we came across two middle-aged men as they walked toward the park, passionately discussing the merits of several horses.

One of them, a portly, bearded man, was holding a stack of papers with each hand, the fingers of the right hand curled around a pencil. He’d clearly been doing a lot of research on the horses. The other, cleanshaven with brown hair slickly combed to the side, was trying to convince him to leave the paperwork behind.

”This is about luck,” he was saying. “Just go with your gut.”

My friends and I hung around outdoors most of the day and, after some time, I saw the two men again walking past us. Mr. Paperwork displayed a satisfied smile, while his companion looked grim.

”Were you lucky?” I asked.

”Lucky?” Mr. Paperwork repeated. “Yes, I’m often lucky when I use my brain.”

That belief in man’s power to foresee outcomes eventually would serve as a guide in much of what I would do later in life, as a writer for The Wall Street Journal, as editor of The Daily Business Review and The Miami Herald’s Business Monday section, and even as a business owner.

It also played a role in my decision to begin writing this column. It’s not that I think luck, a byproduct of forces beyond our control, plays no role in our lives (or in horse racing, for that matter). It’s just that, as a community, sometimes we fail to thoroughly study events and engage in the difficult thinking that improves our odds for success.

More important, we too often fail to challenge conventional wisdom — the kind of wisdom, for example, that insisted the housing market would never go bust.

It all goes back to our beliefs. Mr. Paperwork had to believe his research would make a difference before he’d even attempt it. Our beliefs influence our choices, and choices shape our lives. So, in this introductory column, I’ll skip the small talk about my life and background and simply tell you what else I believe.

I believe that Main Street is as responsible for the current economic crisis as Wall Street. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; that NFL play rules are beginning to coddle quarterbacks; and that all elected officials should be subject to term limits. I believe that man really did land on the moon; that history will redeem George W. Bush; that life begins after conception but before birth; and that nature will destroy us before we destroy it.

I believe we’re entering a dangerous era of populism; that neither fear nor hate should ever drive a decision; and that in life you can have anything, but you can’t have everything — you’ve got to make choices.

Most of all, I believe that the issues we’ll discuss in this space in the months to come will make a difference in how we develop as a community and that, no matter where we each stand on a debate, we’re all the better when we do the hard work of thinking things through and engaging in honest communication.

We’ll still have winners; we’ll still have losers. But when we do it right, we all can consider ourselves lucky.
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Jury awards need to be fair, not lucrative

Posted on Mon, Mar. 02, 2009

BY JACKIE BUENO SOUSA

A Broward jury recently awarded $8 million to the family of a man who died as a result of lung cancer after smoking two packs of cigarettes daily for 40 years.

Multimillion-dollar jury awards are hardly unusual these days. What made this award stand out was that the same jury determined that the smoker, not the tobacco company, was the one mostly responsible for his own death.

The verdict sends a dangerous message: People may engage in detrimental behavior and take comfort in knowing that their loved ones might benefit financially from that behavior once they’re gone. The case, Hess vs. Philip Morris, was the offspring of a larger class-action suit that the Florida Supreme Court threw out, saying each case had to be tried individually. As a result, some 8,000 similar cases are making their way through Florida’s courts, which means we may be about to unleash a systemic wave of rewards for catastrophic behavior.

Not that Philip Morris was without fault. The tobacco company was found to have lied about the harmful effects of smoking. So in the Hess case, the jury ordered Philip Morris to pay $3 million to compensate the Hess family for their loss. To punish the company, the jury told Philip Morris to pay an additional $5 million.

The punitive portion of the award is the most concerning because it furthers the ”lottery” effect of lawsuits today.

”It could seem excessive to have 8,000 of these trials and have each person ask for punitive damages,” says Elizabeth Burch, professor of law at Florida State University. ”At some point, the judge is going to say you’ve been punished enough.” If that happens, the plaintiffs in early cases will receive the benefit of punitive awards, while later plaintiffs may get little or nothing. Plaintiff awards won’t be a matter of justice, but the luck of the draw.

So is it possible to punish a wrongdoer without turning the process into a lawsuit lottery?

”Some states have become very innovative in that regard,” says Darren McKinney, spokesman for the American Tort Reform Association, a nonpartisan group. One method several states have used is a concept called split recovery: The plaintiff only gets a portion of the award, while the other portion goes to a fund created by the state, to be used for a public purpose.

Complex problems rarely have perfect solutions, and split recovery is no exception. Among its drawbacks: States may become too reliant on the money, and jurors could be tempted to award larger amounts if they think the money will go toward a public good.

Others say split recovery threatens one of the purposes of punitive awards: to give people a financial incentive to sue, maintaining a check on harmful behavior.

The problem with that argument is it misconstrues the purpose of punitive damages, which date back to the 18th century. After British officers were involved in cases involving illegal searches and seizures, English courts for the first time said a jury would “have it in their power to give damages for more than the injury received — as punishment to the guilty, to deter from any such proceedings in the future. . . .”

Encouraging lawsuits may be a modern outcome of punitive damages, but it wasn’t part of the original intent. It’s time we return the punitive award to its roots. Split recovery wouldn’t be perfect, but the fairness it would bring to the process could be reward enough.
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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2 Responses to She Had Me at Varadero and Carol City

  1. Well, I don’t want to come off as a shameless Herald defender again, but I’m quite impressed that in these days of severe contraction and endangerment in the newspaper business, they’ve added any content at all. My first reaction when they mentioned this possibility a few months ago was to believe it when I saw it. Now that it’s happened, I give them a lot of credit. I look forward to the columnists’ perspectives, particularly on local and state issues, as you can hear all the national opinion all over the radio. Also, I hear what you’re saying about it being a good business decision in the Obama era. My first thought was that it was good journalism to have vibrant voices on all sides, however, if it was purely business, I can’t blame them at this pivotal moment for newspapers. Finally, I’ll reveal my own leanings by saying I think Leonard Pitts is brilliant.

  2. Jorge Costales says:

    Hopefully for the Herald, this will be a case of good journalism and good business. There are no bonus points for praising Miami’s 800 lb gorilla, the Herald, but I see an effort to not be as party-line leftists as most major newspapers, especially with respect to Cuban foreign policy issues.

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