Heads up, Denver: Hot Coffee director in town for Wednesday night screening

American propagandists and PR hacks have developed remarkably innovative ways of making words lie. Back in the ’80s we had “freedom fighters,” which was the way we described death squads who were friendly to America. “Pro-life” can be used to describe those who bomb clinics and murder physicians. “Enhanced interrogation,” of course, means “torture.” And so on. In some cases this Orwellian distortion of the language falls under the category of “euphemism,” but the more insidious innovations can be so subtle that we don’t recognize the way the language is being gamed unless we think about it very hard.

One of the most dangerous new lies: “tort reform.” Hey, that sounds okay enough. Out of control lawsuits, ambulance chasers, and reform is a good thing, right? Not so much. In truth, anytime you hear the term you’re being lied to by powerful corporate interests bent on eliminating your ability to seek justice when their negligence inflicts egregious harm on you or your family.

There’s a great documentary on the subject, called Hot Coffee. Here’s the trailer, and it’s worth every second of the 2:29 running time.

You’ve heard about the McDonald’s hot coffee case, I’m sure. And if you haven’t seen the actual pictures of the victim, trust me – you did not get the whole story. Now imagine that your child had been killed at Virginia Tech as a result of official negligence, but you were being limited to $100,000 because of “risk management” legislation. As Susan Saladoff, president of Public Justice and the director of Hot Coffee, explains that corporations are buying up your right to pursue legitimate claims and the courts are helping them get away with it.

Taking away people’s rights to access the courts is not that new for corporations. It has been going on for more than 25 years. It has been done through legislation, judicial elections, contractually and supported by a massive, corporate-funded public relations campaign.

Most Americans, however, have no idea – and, again, don’t seem to care — until something bad happens to them personally. Then, people understand, usually for the first time, how their constitutional rights — which stem from the 7th Amendment — have been taken away.

In fact, we have been unwittingly giving away our rights for years, by voting for politicians who cap damages, by electing judges biased toward corporate interests and by signing contracts with fine print forcing us into mandatory arbitration when a company harms us.

Hot Coffee was selected for Sundance and has been featured on HBO, and if you’re in or around Denver you can see the film and meet Saladoff Wednesday night (that’s April 4). The Denver Film Society will be screening the doc at 7pm at the Denver Film Center/Colfax and you’re invited.

It seems like so many of our freedoms and rights are under attack these days, and this film helps illustrate how it’s happening. You’re encouraged to attend.

We’ll close with Saladoff’s appearance on Colbert, which was as entertaining as it was informative…

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