Friday, June 20, 2003

Rights & Reason: The War on Food

Not all terrorists hide in caves. Some meet in Boston:
Lawyers will gather this weekend with public health officials to plan how to sue fast-food chains for obesity and make more money.

The Obesity Lawsuit Conference, which starts today in Boston, is aimed at putting fast-food chains on the defensive and "encouraging trial lawyers to become involved in lawsuits where they can make money," said John F. Banzhaf III, a professor of law at George Washington University and the activist spearheading the effort.
It is truly remarkable that John Banzhaf is allowed to practice law in this country, to say nothing of the fact he's paid to teach it to future generations of lawyers.

Banzhaf's war on the food industry is not about public health, and it's not even about making money for himself and his colleagues. Banzhaf is waging war against the basic individual rights this nation was founded upon. His ideology is that only a self-appointed elite—led by himself, of course—should have the unquestioned power to decide which personal choices are acceptable for American society as a whole. In this sense, Banzhaf is no different than thousands of men throughout history who have sought to employ force simply out of a desire to hold and exercise power over other men.

I've faced criticism—even from colleagues—for calling John Banzhaf a terrorist. But in the post 9/11 world, one lesson we should have learned is that when you're faced with evil, you must identify it and label it for what it is. This is not to say John Banzhaf is Osama Bin Laden. Far from it. But terrorism has different levels and categories. We won't need the Marines to occupy Banzhaf's GW Law School office. But we do need to stop Banzhaf and his co-conspirators before it's too late. This means we must use every rational and legal means available to not simply defend businesses against Banzhaf's attacks, but to put Banzhaf on the defensive, ultimately destroying his ability to earn a living if he does not end his war. By this, I mean that we should exhaust every reasonable avenue to secure Banzhaf's removal from the GW faculty and his disbarment from every court he is a member of. One of the principal reasons for the rise in litigation abuse in this country is the unwillingness of legal institutions to hold their member attorneys to rational—and moral—standards of conduct.

Remember one thing: John Banzhaf has no genuine client. He is not an advocate trying to right an injustice. He is seeking to use the courts as a tool of force against innocent private businesses. The government may enjoy a legal and moral monopoly on the use of force, but that monopoly's legitimacy is rooted in the basic understanding that such force may only be employed in the protection of individual rights. When individuals are allowed to hijack the government's power and use it to violate these rights, then we are faced with the prospect of tyranny.

If there's one encouraging sign in all this, it's that the food industry has given every indication they will fight back. Even small restaurant owners understand Banzhaf is not simply looking for shakedown money—he's looking to destroy them:
"Not only do the lawsuits ... fail to acknowledge the voluntary nature of the choices customers make, they also do not address the fundamental issue of personal responsibility," Washington restaurateur Christianne Ricchi of Italian restaurant i Ricchi testified yesterday.

"While I am confident we will overcome all of these obstacles, the prospect of dealing with the legal fees alone from a potential lawsuit causes me great concern for the future of my business, my employees and our industry as a whole."

Mr. Banzhaf dismissed suggestions that obesity is the result of profligate eating.

"Virtually everyone agrees obesity and obesity-related diseases occurred suddenly in the past 15 to 20 years," he said.

Mrs. Ricchi said personal accountability is the real issue, and that by taking aim at restaurants they are limiting freedom of choice for Americans.

"My view as a business owner is that we're here to offer options."

While the target of obesity lawsuits are fast-food companies, Mrs. Ricchi said that if the lawsuits continue, small businesses like hers will be hurt.

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