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Law & Government

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The Cornerstone of Government

Government in any society is a complicated thing. In the United States, with
our system of checks of balances between three powerful wings of central
government layered on top of fifty individual state governments, each of which
handles their checks and balances in an individual ways, our government which
is summarized as "of the people, by the people and for the people" has become a
phenomenally complex thing.

After over two hundred years of history, it's amazing to see that this
government that rules the current America is still very much the product of
those cornerstone documents that were written by the founding fathers, the
Constitution, the Bill of Rights and especially the Declaration of
Independence. The national sense of self and that distinctively "American"
personality is very much interwoven with the bold statements in these documents.

For one thing, Americans have an intrinsic sense of their own rights and their
ability to function separate from government. As such, government is never
outside of the critical scrutiny of the people that it rules. While this seems
perfectly normal to the citizens of this country, it is uncommon historically
where government ruled with virtual absolute authority and the people were
subservient to their leaders. To an American, the ones they elect to serve work
for the public. And if they ever forget that or appear to be attempting to
gather more power than they are allowed, it isn't long before the leadership of
the country is replaced. This ability of the people to peaceably "throw the bums
out" has kept government in check and constantly on edge for two centuries. And
that is a good thing.

The Declaration of Independence would have to be considered a cornerstone of
how our system of government works because along with independence from
England, that document created a spirit of independence and pride in the
American psyche that has influenced virtually every aspect of both public and
private life. When America declared itself independent from England, it firmly
entrenched into the soul of every American to never be dependent on any other
country, government or ruler ever again.

To an outsider, the fierce dedication to freedom and self determination that is
so deeply entrenched in American culture seems peculiar. But that fundamental
conviction that we are a free people, not just of tyranny from without but free
of oppression from within as well affects every aspect of American life. That
sense of self will and self awareness is what makes American music, movies,
cultural life and art to exciting and addictive around the world.

There was something buried in that bold declaration to the royalty of England
that we would be an independent and free people that changed the personality of
America forever. We did not just break away to be adrift from our point of
origin, in this case The United Kingdom. Rather when we declared freedom, it
was not just freedom FROM oppression and the dominance of government, it was
freedom TO greatness that rose up out of the people, not from a government that
was the keeper of the people.

The Declaration of Independence accomplished it's short term goal of changing
the culture of what was happening on the American mainland from a bold act of
colonization into an even bolder building of a new nation. But accomplished so
much more by putting a determination in the heart and soul of every American to
never again be subjects of a government. Instead government in this new country
would forever be the subject of the people, their servant and answerable to
them. So Americans keep their government on a short leash, not the other way
around. This is a revolutionary concept and one that has been working well for
over 200 years becoming the envy of nations all around the world.

Every Citizen Gets a Vote

One of the founding principles of our system of government is "one man, one
vote." The implication is that every citizen gets one vote in each election and
that each vote will have the same potential impact on the outcome of the
election as any other person's vote. The implication is also that, in a perfect
world, no citizen will ever be denied his or her right to that vote and that all
will be able to and will willingly engage in the privilege of voting for their
elected officials freely, openly and eagerly.

Now, right away we can think of exceptions to how this principle works out in
reality that might cause us to doubt the validity of the "one man, one vote"
system. But we should not let that happen. Because despite these kinks in the
system, the democracy of the election system is still fundamentally intact.

When this thing that has often been called "The Great American Experiment" got
underway, our system of voting, elections and the rule of the people was
virtually untried at a national scale such as it was envisioned by the founding
fathers. Much of the language that is so poetic in our cornerstone documents
such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence read like
philosophical treatises rather than documents grounded in a hard fought
awareness of reality.

But in a way, that's a good thing. Yes, the authors of these documents were
philosophers of their time. And yes, what they were describing in their vision
of how this great new country would function was theoretical and based on
political theory drawn from historical sources rather than immediate historical
precedent. But we only have to look at the outcome to admire that it's a good
thing that the founding fathers were wiser than they were practical.

We as a people were not too small to live up to the high expectations of our
founding fathers. Over the decades, amendments to the constitution were put in
place, legal precedents were made and social attitudes changed so that more and
more of the nation's citizenry gained the same rights that all should have, to
be able to vote in the elections of their country. Some of those landmark
moments in history included:

*  The fifteenth amendment which granted voting rights to African Americans.
*  The fourteenth amendment which guaranteed equal protection of all citizens
   under the law. 
*  The nineteenth amendment which guaranteed voting rights for women. 
*  The civil rights act of 1964 which put further enforcement around these 
   previous laws and amendments to assure equal treatment of all so access to 
   the government is truly a right of all citizens.

Since these improvements to the original founding documents were put in place,
phenomenal changes have taken place that provide concrete proof that the vision
of the founding fathers was indeed something that could be a reality and not
just the philosophical musings of an educated few.

One of the most noticeable social changes that has come along with the legal
recognition of the rights of minorities and women to participate in the system
is that the composition of the government has changed dramatically and that for
the better. The three branches of government today would be virtually
unrecognizable in the narrow world view that prevailed when the nation was
born. But today it is common in any state in the union to see black mayors,
women in congressional seats or in the governor's mansions handling those
responsibilities with the same wisdom and good judgment that male leaders tried
to exhibit in previous decades.

These changes have had a positive effect not only on the fairness of how the
government works but in the sense of enfranchisement all peoples feel for the
affairs of the nation. Indeed, because we now see women, Hispanics, African
Americans and people of all color and persuasion serving honorably in
leadership, our policies are more equitable and we are much closer to having a
government that really does represent the population of the nation.

Now we stand at a time when we could easily see a woman or an African American
in the highest office in the land, the Presidency of the United States. And if
that happens, we will see one more institution conform to the vision of the
founding fathers where every citizen can participate at any level just as every
citizen gets one vote.

Consumer Rights and Protection

The news stories in the last few months have included some pretty alarming
stories about bad products that have come to us from China. And we in the west
do look with disgust at failures of a government to assure that products
produced by merchants are safe for consumers. This is because our government
maintains a high level of control, testing, and monitoring of products to
assure that the consumers of these products are protected and consumers can buy
them with confidence.

Of course, this is not to say that problems with consumer protection have been
eliminated. But when a product is found to be unsafe, we have a sophisticated
system of recalls and alerts that go out over our media. In this way, that the
damage and danger from inferior product is vastly minimized from what it might
have been.

Consumer rights and protection are an important area of focus for manufacturers
and merchants. These laws have a high level of importance for merchants and that
drives up quality control and inspection even before the government or legal
systems get involved. That is because the outcome of a recall or product
failure, especially if that failure leads to injury or death of a consumer, can
be devastating both to the individual merchant or company involved and to the
market it serves that placing a high priority on quality is as much about
market survival as it is about ethical behavior by companies.

What can we as consumers expect in the way of our rights and the protections we
deserve as being part of this economy? It breaks down to what we consider to be
the basics of the contract that is implied when we give someone money for a
product or service:

*  We expect to be able to use the goods safely with no possibility of
immediate harm or long term illness as result of using the product. 

*  We expect the product to perform according to reasonable expectations based 
on what the product was promoted to do both on the package and in 

*  We expect to pay what the product is advertised to cost. We do not accept
changes in price after that price is advertised or surprise costs to be added
on that we weren't expecting. 

*  If a product fails to deliver the service it was advertised to deliver, or 
is found to be flawed in any way, we expect the merchant to refund or replace 
the product promptly and courteously. 

*  In the case of food, medicines or other consumables, we expect the product 
to be made of the highest levels of quality and to be reasonably fresh and 

*  We expect the merchants involved in the sale of the product to stand behind 
the product with guarantees from the retail merchant all the way to the 

We have not come up with this list of rights and protections on our own. These
are the minimum standards prescribed by our laws to assure that the consuming
public can trade with merchant in any kind of product and service and be
treated with the same minimum levels of professionalism and quality assurance.

From the merchant's point of view, you might think these high standards of
consumer rights and protections would be a burden. But in fact, these laws
protect both the consumer and the merchant. That is because these laws make it
possible for the buying public to engage in commerce with any merchant that is
authorized to do business with confidence.

Consumer protection laws make an active marketplace possible which benefits
both consumers and merchants equally. So complying with consumer protection
laws is not just essential from a legal point of view. It makes good sense for
merchants to comply fully and perform above expectations in terms of their
ability to deliver quality product to their customers. It just makes good
business sense.

Can You Keep a Secret?

"Transparency" is a term that gets used on television a lot as something
desirable, particularly in government terms to require that that our elected
officials are being open and honest.. What transparency means is that there is
nothing hidden and the people "employing" the elected official have complete
knowledge of what is going on at all times.

Sometimes we think that even in the world of business, "transparency" would be
a good policy as well. Very often the consumer world gets suspicious that
businesses are not doing business in an honest and forthright fashion. But it
is not uncommon for a business to have a need to sustain a certain level of
secrecy about their products, their marketing and their business plans. This is
not always because the business is crooked. It is just a fact of life in the
business world and one that has given us a legal framework for trade secrets
and confidentiality agreements of various sorts.

What would be the circumstances that you would want to take advantage of the
legal status of trade secrets to keep the internal operations of your business
a secret? Well, the most common rational for utilizing legal trade secret
protection is to retain the marketing advantage that you might have to stay one
step ahead of your competition. The world of business can be a cut throat
environment to be sure. If one competitor learns of the secrets of how the
competition makes a better product, utilizes a superior distribution or
marketing plan or has a organizational philosophy that gives them the edge, the
competition is more than happy to exploit that knowledge to capture business
away. So it's in the best interest of any business to protect their advantages
from becoming well known to make sure they can capitalize on their hard earned
edge in a competitive market as they deserve to do.

Trade secrets generally fall into either the "technical" or "business" related
categories. Technical trade secrets, as the name implies, are discoveries or
new ways of doing things to create something new. This would include the
technical plans or specifications for a protected product or new design, the
methods you have designed for manufacturing a breakthrough technology, notes
and insider design documentation on failures in testing that would tip off
competition on how you innovated this new product.

Business trade secrets are just as valuable because they include exclusive
management and organizational methods that make you more profitable, marketing
plans that would give your competition a heads up on "where you are going to
hit them", information about your customers and details about your employees
and specialized talent that you retain to make your business run better than
the competition.

There is a lot of "corporate espionage" between companies to crack the secrecy
of another company to gain a competitive advantage. But as a new business just
putting together plans for security, there are a few things you can do to
legally protect yourself. A common practice for businesses in need of trade
secret protection is to have their business partners all sign what is called a
"Nondisclosure Agreement" which basically requires that anything your partners
learn about your business will remain a trade secret even if the partner
relationship does not continue. This is a legally binding document you can use
if that partner uses or leaks your trade secrets and you lose business or
market advantage from it.

Many companies require similar kinds of documents from employees and even add a
"Non-compete" agreement to make sure an employee or partner doesn't use trade
secret information to compete for business from them. Your lawyer can help you
decide what is the best way to protect your business and how to use these
documents wisely.

Bank Charges that are a Crime

If you did a survey of the top ten most distrusted professions, right up there
next to lawyers and politicians would be bankers. It's amazing that we have
such a negative view of the banks in light of the fact that almost everyone
uses a bank.

Have you ever wondered how banks make money? In the last few years, it seems
that every bank in town advertises "totally free checking". Offering these fees
for free is so common that most of us have probably forgotten when we paid a
little fee each month for these services. Competition has driven banks to give
away checking. So you would think that has hurt their bottom lines.

But it hasn't. Banks of all the business institutions are doing great, even in
a day and age of exploding costs and dwindling personal savings. So how do they
do it? Well, banks do make money off of our money. When you put $1000 in the
bank, we might like the idea that our money is in a vault waiting until we
start using it. But the reality is that the bank immediately loans that money
out and makes interest on those loans. That is one way that banks make money
and it's completely legal as well.

But despite the demise of checking fees, banks make a ton of money off of bank
charges that they can still legally charge. One of those fees is the cost of
printing checks. If you have ever ordered checks from your bank, you will see a
pretty impressive charge for those checks show up on your next bank statement.
But one thing they don't tell you is that they don't have a monopoly on
printing checks. There are plenty of perfectly good services in the world that
will print up checks for your checking account for a much reduced fee. As long
as those blank numbers along the bottom are readable by a machine and are
correct, the check is legal. So save yourself some money and don't order checks
from the bank.

But one charge that always seems over the top is the overdraft charge the bank
imposes each time one of your checks bounces. It seems that these fees are
extraordinarily excessive. Many times the bank will charge you as much as $35
or more for each bounced check.

Amazingly, these charges are perfectly legal. The law says they are allowed to
charge you enough to cover their costs for covering and processing the returned
check. So that might include notifying you, returning the check to the person
you wrote it to and the necessary account management. How do we know that the
huge tab they charge is not more than they need for their costs? We don't. And
as consumers there isn't any way to fight back, short of not using the bank at
all which isn't realistic.

So how can we protect ourselves against excessive bank charges? One way is to
find a bank that will set up a line of credit that will kick in and put the
funds in your account from a bank loan if you overdraw. It's all done by
computers so the costs of notification are eliminated. And generally the charge
is much less for this service, perhaps $5-$10 for as many checks they have to
cover in a day rather than $35 per check.

Your checks don't bounce so you don't have problems with who you are trying to
pay. And it's a much easier way to protect your bank account than letting the
banks hit you for those out of control overdraft charges just when you need
extra fees the least.

When a Bar is not for Drinking

"Passing the Bar" in the legal profession means something different from
walking by a drinking establishment. The Bar Association is the central
regulating body by which we can be assured that the legal profession is living
up to the highest of ethical and legal standards.

For those of us on the outside of the legal profession, the word "lawyer" often
evokes a series of the latest lawyer jokes we got off the internet. The legal
profession has taken it on the chin with such low jokes and under the breath
implications that lawyers are unethical or greedy. This is strange because of
all of the professions, the legal world is one that is held to a high standard
of education and continuous performance of service and that is held in
continuous scrutiny by their own internal police known as the Bar Association.

For a new law student, the Bar Association lies ahead as a daunting challenge
that lies between them and a lucrative career as a lawyer. The Bar Exam is
renowned for being exacting, difficult and taxing on a prospective lawyer. It
is such a huge accomplishment to pass "The Bar" that it is very common for the
prospective lawyer to take a few months or a year off to prepare for the exam
and/or to have to take it several times before finally passing the test.

Once the student passes The Bar and has achieved that status of being able to
conduct law legally, there is a lot that the Bar Association does for its
membership. It isn't easy to get a practice stated so the Bar Association can
provide valuable advice, contacts in the legal world and even contacts for
financing so a lawyer just out of law school can "hang out their shingle" and
get their practice going.

The national Bar Association is responsible for the larger issues of
certification, relationships with the government and what it means to be a "Bar
certified" lawyer in this country. But on top of those services, there are local
Bar Associations that lawyers in every community can join that offer many
valuable services to their members.

Sometimes lawyers look at the local Bar Association with distain. This might be
because the idea of associating with a lot of other lawyers doesn't seem to make
much sense. After all, they will not be your prospective customers. Moreover,
that is the competition and you don't want to spill your guts to the

However, in practice is a brotherhood in the local legal professions that
benefits everyone. By associating with other lawyers, legal firms and
professionals associated with the legal world, there is a lot of value you can
get just from attending the local Bar Association meetings.

Probably the greatest advantage to becoming an active member of your local Bar
Association is the networking you will get done. On any given evening, you
might find yourself networking with some of the judges you may be working with
in court this year, with partners in your firm or competition firms who may
have some valuable tips on upcoming cases or who may be looking for a bright
attorney like yourself to recruit.

One the best ways to build your practice is to begin to pull in a roster of
solid clients that can be the source of your long-term success as a lawyer.
While we do see lawyers going on television to advertise for customers, the
best way to find new clients is through pro bono work and through networking.
Your local Bar Association offers a lot of community services to new businesses
just getting started and to the local small business association. There is a
method to this madness. These are the organizations future clients will come to
with legal questions and problems. So if you are well known to your local Bar
Association officers and members and they know what you can do for clients,
they can give you as a reference, which can mean new customers for your

You can make a lot of contacts this way and eventually connect with that "core
client" who may be the ticket to your long-term success. These breakthroughs
won't happen by sitting in your office waiting for the phone to ring. Get out
there and network and the best place in town to do that is at your local Bar
Association meetings.

Using Our Legal Rights for Estate Planning

"I know my rights!" That is one of those phrases we all like to have in our
arsenal if we get into a struggle, particularly with the government or a
financial institution. But another phrase that is just as appropriate,
especially when it comes to the rights that the legal system gives us is, "Use
it or lose it."

As much as we malign lawyers and hold the government up for ridicule, there are
a lot of laws on the books that are here to protect ordinary citizens like you
and I. The real crime then is when we don't make ourselves aware of those
rights or fail to take advantage of them. Nowhere is the problem more glaring
then when it comes to the laws concerning estate planning, wills, trusts and

Any estate planning lawyer can guide us through the steps of setting up legally
binding documents to make sure that whatever is ours when we do pass on to the
next life through death will go to the ones we want to have it. Amazingly, many
people just do not take advantage of estate planning laws and their heirs find
themselves trying to take care of their loved ones wishes with no will in place
to protect their property.

Maybe it would help to learn more about probate which is the way the state
dispenses with your property if there is no will in place. Well, the news there
is not good. Not only will the government dispense with your property by its
rules without any regard or guidance from you how you want your property
divided when you die, there are heavy taxes that they are happy to take for the
privilege. There very idea that the government can take as much as ten percent
of your estate during probate should send us all running to our estate planning
lawyers to get the documents in place to make sure this does not happen.

There are lots of reasons people don't like to plan for how their property will
be distributed after they pass away. No doubt the biggest one is
procrastination. If you ask most people who have significant holdings that
should be protected by a will why they don't go through that exercise, the
answer is often, "I will take care of that when I am older."

The implication is that if you are not elderly, you are certainly not close
enough to the moment of death to worry about it. This is an amazing assumption
when anyone who rationally knows how the world works knows that people just
like you and me die in car wrecks, plane crashes or even just have sudden heart
attacks at young ages and leave their loved ones to sort out the estate. So
confronting that potential is the first step toward developing a mature
approach to estate planning.

The heart of this procrastination lies in a dread of thinking about death. Most
of us would like to believe we will never die when all evidence proves the
opposite. On top of that, we don't like dealing with lawyers, we don't like
thinking about our own mortality and we fear the expense of setting up a will.
None of these are rational excuses for not putting these important documents in
place. Few of us would own a car without insurance. And we buy all kinds of
insurance to cover our health, our home our life and our business. If we can
just think of a will in that same light, we might be motivated to insure that
our estate is properly distributed when we pass on. It's just as important as
any insurance, especially to your family and loved ones.

The Most Feared Government Institution

To even mention the name of this government institution can set off waves of
anxiety and stories of abuse and persecution that is unheard of for virtually
any other governmental body in this country. It's really amazing the ability of
three little words to instill fear in the hearts of an American citizen when
those three little words are -- Internal Revenue Service.

When we look a little closer at the mission of the IRS and their actual record
of how they handle most of their cases, the level of hysteria we get ourselves
into is really pretty silly. For the most part, the abuses and draconian
methods that we think of when we talk about the IRS are urban myth. You would
think that the IRS existed solely to imprison the American people, take all of
their property and make our lives miserable either through audits that resemble
the Spanish Inquisition or by keeping us all in constant terror.

This is not to say that over the decades there have not been some abuses that
have earned the IRS as least some of the reputation it is still working to live
down. Yes, you can dig back and find some pretty awful abuses that the IRS has
committed against citizens in the name of tax collection. But to be fair, we
can find abuses in many governmental bodies, particularly those with a mission
to carry out that is undercover or violent. We can think of phenomenal stories
of violence and unethical behavior by the ATF, The FBI, The CIA and all
branches of the military. But we don't as a population cringe in terror in
talking about those governmental bodies the way we do when the subject of the
IRS comes up in conversation.

You have to wonder why the IRS strikes such fear into our hearts. Part of it is
the influence of the media, Hollywood and television. The IRS makes a big target
and many times the role of an IRS agent is depicted in movies as a heartless
mercenary out to take away everything you own. The specter of an IRS audit is
feared with the same loathing of a root canal or torture by foreign spies.

But much of it may come from just a plain and simple distain for paying taxes.
We just don't like the idea of the government taking our money. The cure for
this is to step back and examine why taxes are necessary and understand that
paying for the operation of a governmental system is the responsibility of all
of us. It is not only the patriotic thing to do but it is part of what being a
citizen of a great nation does. The IRS are just the clerks assigned with the
difficult task of making sure everybody pays their taxes. And, after all, the
system is only fair if everybody pays their share.

The truth is that the IRS does all it can not to have to resort to drastic
measures to help each citizen participate in the support of the government
equally. Many times even the dreaded IRS audit is really no more painful or
difficult than getting a bill from your electric company.

It really isn't the IRS's fault that the tax laws are complicated and hard to
figure out. If we want to fix that, we should go to our congressmen and elected
officials. The IRS is really in the same boat we are in. They have to figure out
the tax laws and then see to it that we live within them. Blaming the IRS
because we don't like the tax laws or paying taxes in general is the old "bad
news, kill the messenger" syndrome.

If we take a more reasonable view of what the IRS is and that they are doing
their best, as we all are, to get a job done that not very many people like, we
might not only stop fearing and despising them, we might see them as just
another governmental body that has to be there just like the military at the
federal level and the garbage man or the school board chairman at the local
level. These are just good honest Americans doing their best to make the system
work. And if we work together, it can work and we can find ways to make it

The Legal Status of Identity Theft Cases

The law is not a stagnant thing. It is constantly changing, evolving and
adapting to new situations and new crimes that must be identified and
understood so appropriate laws can be passed to protect honest people from the
dishonest ones. This can be a tricky process, especially in this age when
crimes using the internet make detection and evidence so difficult.

Identity theft is a perfect example of a crime that should be aggressively
attacked from the legal community. But because it is a crime that is always
changing and adapting, it is sometimes difficult for the legal community to get
a firm definition of what identity theft is and particularly how to codify it
into a system of laws that can be used to effectively stop it.

Probably the biggest problem with enforcing laws that will lead to the
conviction of identity thieves is to develop ways to keep the evidence long
enough to seek a conviction. Until we can give law enforcement sufficient tools
both to identify and capture identity theft criminals and then to gather
sufficient evidence to get a conviction, identity theft will continue to be an
allusive enemy.

Unlike a murder where there is a weapon and a corpse or bank robbery where
there are physical forms of evidence, much of the footprint of identity theft
occurs in cyberspace where there are few fingerprints and tracing the path of
the criminal is difficult at best. In that way, tracking down identity thieves
resembles the problems legal experts have in defining and then tracking down
cyber stalkers or pornography merchants who can be so elusive in an online

Consumers who are hit with identity theft face two challenges. One is to stop
the continued stealing by thieves who can continue to do their damage even
after the crime has been identified. The other is to find the criminals and
make it stop.

Consumers are frustrated because law enforcement hits roadblocks in their
investigations of identity theft cases. But law enforcement professionals are
also frustrated because those who might have the evidence they need to capture,
prosecute and convict identity thieves often no longer have that evidence that
is desperately needed to stop this unique 21st century crime.

In order to give law enforcement what they need, companies that sell consumer
data must be regulated more closely. One big "hole" in the legal system which
favors identity thieves and puts consumers at a disadvantage is that businesses
that resell consumer data do not have to notify consumers when their data is
being passed along to another agency. Therefore, once a consumer provides his
or her private data to a company, that data can be packaged and resold without
restriction to as many buyers who care to line up to buy it and the consumer
has no idea this is going on.

So this is a level of consumer protection that can be addressed legally by
requiring any company that collects buyer information must be required to
notify consumers when that data is being sold and who they are selling it to.
If every consumer can retain a complete trail of who is getting their private
information, that would empower the private sector to partner with the legal
community to put a stop to this level of crime.

If further laws could be improved to require longer retention of transactions
of this nature and open access of those records to law enforcement, we would be
giving our legal system the weapons they need to stop this crime. And that would
be a step forward for all of society to make the world, the cyber world
included, a safer place for all of us.

The Legal Rights of Musicians

Creative people of all types all come back to one legal touchstone and that is
copyright law. It is often sited in all kinds of cases involving literature,
film, publishing and certainly in music. Within the music industry, the ability
of copyright to protect an artist's work has come under new challenges in the
last ten years. The rise of peer-to-peer file sharing, online music downloading
and other internet related ways that music gets passed around has presented some
real challenges to musicians to collect what is due them as owners of music
under copyright.

There are numerous royalty rights associated with the writing, publication,
performance and distribution of music that have to be sorted out by a
complicated infrastructure that the music industry maintains to protect its
own. But when you get back to the basics, the copyright of a piece of music
works in music the same way it does in any literary field. That copyright, at
least at first, belongs to the songwriter.

That is where the simplicity of the situation ends. For most songwriters,
complete ownership of a song rarely remains the exclusive property of that
author of the song. Most songwriters work with a publishing house to get their
music out on the market. Even if the songwriter is writing songs for their own
band, the publishing house provides the valuable service of not only publishing
the song or songs but getting them out on the market to be covered or produced
by others as well, if that is how the songwriter wants.

So this is a valuable service that is provided by the publishing house. In
exchange for handling all of the promotion of the music, the publishing house
takes over 50% of the copyright. This may seem like a lot to give up but there
is a hidden side to sharing copyright that benefits the songwriter maybe even
more than the promotional help the publishing house provides.

Because the publishing house now has a vested interest in that creative work,
they also have a vested interest in protecting it. A copyright over a piece of
music, at least on paper, is a pretty strong legal right. It covers all aspects
of how that song can be used. If the song is used on a recording, obviously the
songwriter has some rights to the proceeds of that release. But even if the
song is just covered in a performance, technically the copyright owner has some
rights to payment for the use of that exclusive creative intellectual material.

The issue is as much one of enforcement as it is whether the rights are there
or not. This is a judgment call to be made by the songwriter, the publishing
house and the legal representation of all involved. Sometimes seeing your
creative material used has such a positive marketing value that to start a
legal battle for the monetary rights could hurt your music career as much as it
might help you.

These are decisions that musicians and owners of copyright or royalty rights
are making every day in the music industry. The debate over the value of
fighting for copyright versus allowing small infractions in exchange the
marketing value of your music being heard is one that is held more and more as
music sharing has become more common with the spread of internet services.
While a strict copyright lawyer might argue that once you stop defending your
ownership, you loose it forever, the truth of the marketplace is not always
that black and white. The rights are there, to be sure. But the wisdom of how
to let your music make you more successful calls for the use of judgment and a
savvy that comes from your extensive knowledge of how the music industry really

The FCC and Free Speech

When you think about it for very long, you wonder if there is a good reason
that the United States even has a Federal Communications Commission. But with a
closer look at the value this important government department adds to our public
life, we can get a good perspective on the reasons we need the FCC to be there
to provide some guidance for how the public airwaves are used.

The FCC grew out of a need in the early thirties to have a regulatory body to
assist with issues relative to the growing radio industry in regards to
monopolies on the airwaves and how radio conglomerates were handling
relationships with affiliates and employees. So in 1934, Congress passed the
Communications Act which expanded the Federal Radio Commission that was already
in existence and gave it a wider jurisdiction. The agency that came out of this
reorganization and expansion became what we now know as the Federal
Communications Commission.

Much of the work of the early FCC was to work to diversify ownership of radio
stations and impose some control on the powerful communications conglomerates
of NBC and CBS. So the early regulatory activity of the FCC accomplished three
improvements in the radio industry:

*  In a document issued in 1940 called Report on Chain Broadcasting, the FCC
began the work of limiting the growth of conglomerate ownership of
telecommunications facilities. It was believed then that diversification of
ownership would foster competition and greater creative opportunity in the
radio industry.

*  The FCC introduced some limits on the extent that the large radio
conglomerates could demand time of their affiliates. This control was necessary
to establish a cooperative relationship between affiliates and the large
networks and cut down on affiliate abuse which was harmful to local markets.

*  Finally the FCC stepped in to put significant control over "artist bureaus"
by which networks were able to function as both the agents and employers of
artists they had under contract. Obviously this was not a situation that
resulted in the best interests of the artists.

Notice that in none of these original goals of the FCC was there any
jurisdiction over content or public decency implied in its powers or
responsibilities. This doesn't mean that taking an administrative role in the
content of what goes out over the nation's airwaves not a proper use of the
FCC. But it is a change from the original charge that was given to the FCC to
justify its creation.

The change in focus began in the Reagan administration. It was during this time
in our history that much of the oversight of the large media conglomerates were
removed. As a result the door was opened for large corporations to own a
variety of media outlets and to take possession of a large possession of a
majority of a particular media's outlets which narrowed competition. The
outcome was the concentration of ownership of radio stations in the hands of a
few large corporations which has lead to a homogenization of that media. But
the lifting of tight regulations also has resulted in the explosion of cable
television the expansion of options for consumers and the proliferation of talk

It was in the new century when the FCC began to shift its focus toward taking a
greater control over content in broadcasting. Many say that it was the super
bowl fiasco with Janet Jackson that set off the changes. But leading up to that
event, there had already been some notable crackdowns such as greater fines for
particularly offensive programs such as the Howard Stern radio broadcast.

It remains to be seen if the FCC will continue to serve as a moderator of
content and obscenity in years to come. If that is the direction, there will be
some very public discussion over the role of government versus the rights of
people under the free speech protection provided by the constitution. But such
dialog is healthy in a free society as we continue to redefine how far we will
allow the agencies of our government to protect us while using the power of
these agencies for the greatest public good.

The FBI Protecting Our Safety

Our federal government has literally dozens of bureaus, departments, and
commissions. But of all of those agencies, there is probably none who are as
"notorious" as the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the FBI. This is an
agency who's reason for being and daily challenges are so dangerous and exotic
that we often see the FBI portrayed in movies and TV shows, and almost always

It is really amazing when you think about it that the FBI is actually a very
old agency. And yet in its long history, the FBI has maintained a high public
approval and regard for honesty and their single-minded focus on their purpose,
which is to protect the American people. That is why when we think of the FBI we
think of the words of their motto which is, "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity".

The actual history of the beginnings of the FBI date back to the turn of last
century with a descendent of the French general Napoleon. The President at that
time was Teddy Roosevelt and it was under his Attorney General that an agency
known as the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) was established in 1908, almost 100
years ago. That Attorney General was Charles Joseph Bonaparte whose grandfather
was Jerome Bonaparte, the brother of the famous Napoleon.

The name of the FBI went through several changes before settling in to what we
know it as today. In 1932 it was renamed the United States Bureau of
Investigation. Then in 1933, it was again renamed the Division of Investigation
(DOI) because it had become part of the Bureau of Prohibition. Finally in 1935
it took on the name we know it as today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Just as the name of the FBI has gone through some changes, so has the focus of
its mission. But this does not reflect a lack of vision on the part of the
leadership of the FBI as much as it shows that the agency has continued to
adapt and refocus as America's enemies have changed. Over the years, the FBI
has had some phenomenal successes in its war against those who would undermine
the American way of life including:

*  The most notorious and longest standing director of the FBI, J Edger Hoover
lead a war on crime when gangsters and organized crime threatened the rule of
law in this country. During his administration, the FBI killed or arrested such
notorious mobsters as "Baby Face" Nelson, John Dillinger, "Machine Gun" Kelly,
and "Ma" Barker.

*  The FBI implemented a strategy to attack and slowly stop the infamous Klu
Klux Klan from continuing their murderous and illegal activities across the

*  In the 1920's, the FBI arrested an entire army of Mexican revolutionaries
who were massing on the nation's border in California eliminating another
threat to the American homeland.

*  During World War II, the FBI had a pivotal role in that conflict when it
broke up a cell of eight nazis where were working inside the borders of the
United States planning acts of sabotage to reduce our ability to battle Hitler.
Six of those Nazis were eventually put to death.

But the FBI has never rested on its successes. The mission of the agency has
continued to grow and change even in the new century as the focus of our
enemies has changed to the internet and the war on terror. That new focus has
such a high priority that the top three official investigative priorities of
the FBI are:

*  To protect the United States from terrorist attack. 
*  To protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and 
*  To protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology

Since the September 11th 2001 attacks, there have been dozens of instances
where the FBI working with international and other US intelligence agencies
stopped our terrorists from causing further loss of life and property in our
nation. So whenever you hear of a great breakthrough in the war on terror or an
arrest of one of our nation's enemies, you can be sure that at the heart of that
investigation was this hard working group of men and women, the FBI.

When a Name is More Than a Name

Launching a new business is both an exciting and scary adventure for even a
seasoned business veteran. But there is something about the spirit of the
entrepreneur that drives us to strike out on our own and do something new,
despite the risks.

You will have a lot to think about but if you get good help, you have a good
shot at success. Of course you need financing, good accounting and legal help
and a solid business plan. You need a product that serves a documented market
need and a marketing plan that gets that product into the hands of that needy
market efficiently and quickly so you can cash in on your business concept.

The legal side of things is probably the most intimidating aspect of a new
business venture. Of the numerous issues that we need to be concerned out, one
that often escapes notice is the simple act of choosing a business name.

This side of creating a new business is often the most exciting for the novice
entrepreneur. By creating a name that is short but still does a good job of
getting across the mission of the business is a challenge. But it is a labor of
love for the owner or owners of the business to be. Often integrating the names
of the owners or names of loved ones serves the business well. Certainly that
can be said of McDonalds, Wendy's and Denny's.

But there are some legal issues to be considered when picking that name that is
going to become your corporate identity to the world. That business name is
going to show up on your business card, your web page, at your corporate
headquarters, in your advertising if that is appropriate and many other places.
It will be how the world references your business. You want to be proud of it
for sure. But even more than that, it is important that name belongs to you.

The legal arena covering business names falls under the category of trademark
law. The problem comes up if you happen to pick a business name that could
possibly be the same name of a competitor in your field. This is not just a
concern for your local community. If you are using the same name as someone on
the other side of the country or even on the other side of the world,
technically you can run into problems if that business decides to call you out
about it.

Stories abound of how a big powerful company took issue with some small mom and
pop business who happened to have the same name and used all of their mighty
legal muscle to force someone to change their business name, maybe even
abandoning their own family name because it was covered by the trademark claims
of the larger firm. While these stories are sad to be sure, the fact remains,
the law is the law. So it's a good idea to make sure that this name you are
about to create will be yours day one, in five years and even down the road
when and if your business becomes a large international success.

So even though going through yet another legal process and employing yet
another lawyer to run up yet another legal bill seems to be a burden, its
necessary to make sure your business name belongs to you. The good thing is
that trademark lawyers know their stuff and should be able to do a trademark
search fairly easily to let you know if there is any reason for concern. Once
you get that green light from your legal help, then you can proudly launch that
name as your business knowing you covered your bases.

The Controversial Punishment of the Death Penalty

In the day in day out creation and enforcement of laws by our government and
law enforcement officials, it is a common occurrence for an issue to come up
that is layered with emotional and moral questions. At the legislative level
even today, our government is wrestling with issues involving cloning and stem
cell research and trying to find a middle ground between the ethical, moral and
religious issues versus the scientific benefit that might come from the practice.

One of the great debates has been ongoing in American society over it's history
has been over whether it is moral and right to use the death penalty as a
punishment for heinous crimes. Whether one is for abolishing this form of
punishment or on the side of using it as a just outcome for a criminal, there
is no question that the issue itself is a difficult one to decide.

The arguments for or against the death penalty are often not offered from a
legal point of view. The positions taken by those both for and against the law
fall under a few general classifications:

*  The argument from morality against the death penalty. That it is immoral for
a just society to take a life, even if it is of a criminal who themselves have
taken life.

*  The argument from morality for the death penalty. That it is just for the
life of one convicted of a heinous crime to lose their lives as a proper
outcome of that crime. That certain crimes should always be defined as so
grievous that the one committing this crime must not continue to live and that
it is the responsibility of the legal system to remove such individuals from
society via the death penalty.

*  The argument that the death penalty does or does not constitute cruel or
unusual punishment.

*  The argument that God calls for the death of the murderer under the "and eye
for an eye" statute from the Hebrew Old Testament.

*  The argument that God calls for the forgiveness of even the murderer as part
of the theology of the Christian New Testament.

*  The argument from economy that it costs less to execute a criminal than to
keep him or her in prison for life.

*  The argument that the most heinous criminal could be rehabilitated to become
a productive member of society.

*  The argument from revenge, that the family of victims of heinous crimes
deserve to see the killers of their loved ones executed.

*  The argument from closure that for those same families and for society,
seeing the death of a heinous criminal aids in the grief process by providing
closure when we see the guilty properly punished.

It is easy to see why this issue is so emotionally charged and continues to be
one of debate and dialog both at the governmental level and in political and
religious circles.

It really isn't rational to consider a law or the attempt by lawmakers to frame
this issue into legislation as moral or immoral. In our representative form of
government, those who would make laws have clear cut guidelines on how they
will decide what will or will not become the law of the land.

The top level criteria for what becomes a law in this country is the will of
the people. This can be difficult to determine especially in an issue that has
fervent believers on both sides. The will of the people is not the sole
criteria for a law as the electorate may not be aware of the legal grounds for
a law or of the precedent in legal systems that were the background for our
system of government. Again, reasons can be found in legal precedent that could
be used to justify the legalization of the death penalty or the banning of it.

Finally law makers will turn to the consideration of the efficiency of a system
of justice and in doing so try to determine if the death penalty is effective.
There are almost as many studies to show that the death penalty does not reduce
crime as show the opposite. It is similarly difficult to prove the executing
criminals saves money compared to life in prison. But no matter what side of
the issue we come down on, there is no question that this will be an ongoing
debate in society for decades to come.

That Puzzle They Call Medicare Law

We depend on the government to pass laws that are good for the people of this
great country. And many laws that get passed do a great job of that. But one
requirement of a law to be of any benefit to people is that we, the people,
must be able to understand it.

When it comes to this vast legal system called "Medicare", the best way we can
compliment the work of our government in making it understandable is, "Well,
their hearts are in the right place." Medicare is a system that was designed to
help the elderly with their medical bills at a time of life when that help is
needed the most. So, all cynicism aside, it is a system of laws that obeys that
edit of seeing the government try to do the best for the people it serves.

But many of us find Medicare confusing. And when laws are confusing, it is easy
to think that this was done on purpose to keep people from taking advantage of
the system. In the case of Medicare, it is more likely that the system become
complex because the medical system is itself complex due to the large amount of
needs people have, especially in their senior years and the vast amount of
options that the medical community puts at their disposal.

One good innovation that the government made standard in Medicare is that every
citizen is automatically eligible as soon as they reach retirement age. There is
no questioning on who qualifies because if you meet the requirement of
citizenship, you have a chance to participate in the program. If we are seeking
to simplify Medicare, we would have to first divide into three parts so we can
separate what each part does and how it benefits the people it serves.

The first part of Medicare kicks in to cover hospital expenses in case there is
need for that level of care. Medicare covers a wide range of services that you
might need during hospitalization including room and meals, nursing and other
hospital services that are needed during your time in the hospital. But the
hospitalization benefit doesn't end when you drive away from the building.
Medicare also covers home health services you might need during recuperation as
well as equipment such as wheelchairs and in home needs of the disabled and
hospice services for care during end of life situations. Millions have
benefited from this part of Medicare's coverage so by itself it may justify the
existence of Medicare.

You may have noticed that the first part of Medicare did not
cover the actual medical costs of the care you receive. Part B of Medicare
kicks in to help out with those costs. Under this second area of Medicare,
doctors bills are covered as well medical procedures needed during your
hospital stay, medicine, ambulance care if that is needed and even physical
therapy the doctor may prescribe to aid in your recovery. Again, this aspect of
Medicare has benefited millions of the citizens and it often very much needed
for the elderly struggling with health issues.

For a long time all Medicare coverage fit into one of these two categories. But
there has been significant work done on Medicare law of late. So in 2006, a
third category was introduced to deal with the cost of prescription drugs. This
is a good step forward giving Medicare recipients more choices in what drugs
they need and who they will get them from.

There is little doubt that Medicare will continue to be updated and improved to
serve the needs of the elderly population. Hopefully we will always be able to
say that lawmakers have their hearts in the right place and that they are
making laws that we can use and that we can understand as well.

Term Limits Pro and Con

When America young, if we could have put any sign on the shores of the country
for any foreign government to read, it might have said "No Kings Allowed!" The
conviction was strong that this new country would never be a place where
royalty dominated the people and were held up for worship as was the abuse in
so many countries our forefathers came here to escape.

So many of the protections that were put in place in our founding documents
were put there to assure that it would be virtually impossible for anyone to
become king in this country. No matter how much power a politician or
legislative body were able to amass, our system of government made sure that no
one party, person or special interest group would be able to hold power forever
and that no one could take over the government, stage a coup and change America
into a tyrannical monarchy like we had left behind in Europe.

The separation of powers between the executive, the legislative and the
judicial is one of the protections we have in place to make sure no single part
of the government can arrest total power from the other two. And while this
separation has lead to plenty of friction and battles between the branches of
government, that is exactly the way it should be. Better to fight it out and
have a government of shared power than to have one branch make all the
decisions and rule like a king.

Just as important to the preservation of our unique governmental system is the
use of term limits to restrict the extent to which a politician can "take up
residence" in a political office. We are most aware of term limits at the
presidential level where we do not allow any one president to serve more than
two terms. To some, that should be cut back to one term per president. But the
term limit system will probably remain as it is for a long time to come.

This issue can generate a considerable amount of emotional debate. And of
course, in a free society political debate is healthy too. How you feel about
presidential term limits may have more to do with how much you do or don't like
the current president. If you like him (or her) a great deal, you would probably
cheer for the abolition of term limits entirely. And if you oppose the current
occupant of the white house, just one term is probably too much. There are some
compelling reasons on both side of the argument.

We do trade away a certain amount of experience when we require by law that our
current leadership retire after eight years. Each time a new president settles
in to the white house, there is a time of learning while that new leadership
gets organized and learns how to do this unusual job. Some would argue that
forcing leadership from office may be undemocratic because it denies the people
the right to return a president to office if he (or she) is doing a good job and
should continue in leadership.

One visible downside of term limits is that when a politician is in their last
term, there is a time of "lame duck" leadership because that leader no longer
has to work hard to win another election. That leader could become reckless and
not provide the quality of service to the country that we expect from our

But our founding fathers wisely believed in the concept of citizen leadership.
Their original vision for the presidency would be that a citizen would go to
Washington and serve in the office for a season and then quietly return to
private practice to let another citizen lead for a while. While our approach to
ex-presidents doesn't exactly fit that mold, our system is faithful to that

Term limits keeps a constant flow of fresh leadership coming in. Some would say
we should tighten term limits at the congressional and maybe even the judicial
level. And there are merits to arguments on both sides of that issue. But we
can say with assurance that term limits and the other provisions the founding
founders put in place have kept our approach to government true to their vision
of how this country would be run. And that means "No Kings Allowed!"

Tapping a Vast Resource through National Service

In 1994 there was a government agency created that didn't create a lot of
scandal and to a large extent went unnoticed. But this government agency has
made a huge contribution to the quality of life for all who get involved with
it. It is the agency called Americorps created by the Clinton Administration to
replicate the success of the Peace Corps to tap the power of national service to
aid those in need across America.

There has been a lot of talk in the last decade about whether the current
generation of young people are as "great" as the generation who fought
valiantly in World War II. What the Americorps experiment set out to learn was
whether the current generation was as lazy and unpatriotic as was being said in
the tabloids or if the current generation, given the chance, could themselves be
the "greatest generation" for our times.

The results have been phenomenal. Hundreds of thousands of young people have
come forward to volunteer to serve their country and their fellow citizens
through national service. National service is a concept that at one time was a
core value to all Americans. At one time, children were taught that upon
graduation from High School, every young person owed it to their country to
serve at least two years of national service before starting family or their
new careers.

What the Americorps experiment found out is that this value has not vanished
from the American consciousness. Thousands of young people have flooded to
Americorps in such numbers that there is a waiting list to get the chance to be
of service.

President Clinton's vision to create an agency that would attempt to replicate
the success of the Peace Corps of the sixties set a high standard for quality
for Americorps to reach. The Peace Corps has become a standard that we all look
to of an agency devoted singularly to contributing to the well being of our
fellow man around the world and tapping the energy and good will of youth to
accomplish this high goal. The stories of lives that have been changed of both
those being helped and of volunteers to the Peace Corps are legionary.

What few know is that since 1961, 160,000 people have served in the Peace
Corps. By comparison, since its inception in 1996, more than 200,000 have
served in Americorps in hundreds of different capacities. Americorps has
surpassed the model for a great example of national service and it has done so
quietly, without fanfare and without the recognition that it deserves.

It is easy to recognize the good being done by a service based on the tapping
the power of volunteerism in the nation's youth. We have seen some dramatic
examples of how Americans will pour out their service, their hard work, their
physical resources and even their money to help their fellow Americans in times
of need. Out of some of the most devastating events of our nation's history such
as the 911 attacks and the horror of Hurricane Katrina, we have witnessed some
of the most touching moments of human compassion and social consciousness as
neighbor reached out to neighbor to help those affected by terrible tragedy.

But it isn't just the victims that are helped by services such as Americorps.
Maybe the ones more blessed are the volunteers. They say that you get back far
more than you give when you volunteer. The testimonies of those who have given
some of their time to national service are solid proof of that theory. Young
people in their late teens and early twenties are just beginning to define who
they are and what they will become. By having some months or a few years where
their lives are dedicated to helping others will instill a long-term commitment
to service, to thinking of others rather than themselves and to patriotism.

The patriotism that takes root in our young people form their time in national
service is not just the flag waving, song singing kind we see on display on
July 4th. It is a patriotism that we saw in World War II in our soldiers and in
our forefathers that gave all to make the country great. If national service can
instill that kind of patriotism in our youth, we have no worries that America
will not continue to be great for many decades to come.

Protecting Our Kids Online

The internet has sometimes been compared to the wild, wild west. Part of the
reason for that is because in those early days of the frontier, the law was in
place to protect citizens of the land but in many cases, it was hard to enforce
and criminals ran free to defy laws without fear of being stopped.

When it comes to protecting our kids who go online, in a lot of ways it is the
wild west out there. Are there laws on the books to protect our children from
being assaulted by internet criminals who would do them harm? Of course there
are. But enforcing those laws and catching every bad person who your child
might encounter out there in cyberspace is a task that law enforcement is
working hard to conquer. But they have not conquered it yet. So cyberspace is
in many ways, an untamed frontier.

While we don't want to go to the days of the wild west where vigilantes roamed
the land enforcing brutal justice on criminals, we have to do something. The
stories we hear on television and read in the newspapers about children being
seduced and abducted right out from under the noses of parents are deeply

This may be the most troubling thing about cyber criminals who would harm our
children. Because the internet is in our homes and even now spreading to the
phones and electronic devices of our children, the access of strangers to our
kids is virtually unlimited. Kids can get into chat rooms, use social
networking services like MySpace and view all kinds of filth online all while
mom and dad are just a few yards away watching the news. Because of this
unprecedented access, new strategies have to be developed for law enforcement
to protect our kids but also so we can partner with them to stop these evil
people who would use this wonderful tool of the internet for evil purposes.

At a public level, we want to give our police and law enforcement officials all
the help we can to crack down on cyber stalkers so the word goes out to such
criminals that it is possible to be caught stalking children and if you are
caught, it will be a harsh penalty for this kind of crime. Some have even
called for the death penalty for people who stalk children online. How severe
we as a society wish to treat crimes of this nature is something for our
leaders to help us work through. But our first line of defense is enabling
those we trust to protect us to find and lock up these criminals so these
crimes can be stopped.

But at this time, we cannot expect law enforcement to be able to stop anyone
from approach our children online. So we as parents share in the responsibility
of making sure our homes are secure. Just as we put locks on the doors even
though police are there to stop intruders, we must secure the internet so the
chances of our kids becoming victims is minimized. The three strongest locks we
can use to protect our families online are:

*  Software. We can put software on our computers that will keep our kids out
of web sites where these criminals may lurk. These "Net Nanny" programs are
inexpensive and effective.

*  Knowledge. We must teach our children not to talk to strangers online any
more than they would in a public place. Cyber stalkers are clever so we must be
sure our children understand the risk and do not engage anyone they don't know
and trust online.

*  Communication. Keeping the lines of communication open with our kids will
assure that if they suspect they are being approached by a cyber stalker, they
can come to their parents who can then alert the authorities.

It's a shared effort to stop these criminals from having access to our
children. But by working together with law enforcement and keeping those lines
of communication open with our own kids, we can shut down their access to our
children and so frustrate their ability to commit crimes against those we love
the most.

Is It Worth it to File a Malpractice Claim?

When you are injured, getting a legal claim filed is not always the first thing
on your mind. But this is one area that it seems the lawyers descend like
vultures on anyone who is injured in any way at all. This is one way that the
legal profession gets such a bad reputation. Seeing all of those "ambulance
chasers" and lawyers trying to talk us into filing malpractice claims on
television is not a dignified way to portray any profession.

This whole area of malpractice can be pretty confusing to those of us outside
of both the legal and the medical professions. But in a strict sense of the
word, it may be something looking into if there is a clear case where a doctor
either did not do their job or did it so poorly that it caused you additional
pain and suffering or injury.

In that kind of situation, you may incur lots of additional medical expenses
getting qualified help from an injury caused by a doctor who just didn't do his
or her job right. So it seems only right that the malpractice laws would be
there to protect us from being victimized by doctors who were not doing their
best to make you better.

The problem is, when it comes to using the malpractice laws to seek some
satisfaction for a bad medical situation, it can get quite confusing. The first
thing that might help get some definition of what constitutes malpractice is to
understand the categories. There are five general types of medical error or
"malfeasance" that can throw your case into the category of malpractice. It
might be malpractice:

*  If the doctor is not able to diagnose your illness or does so incorrectly.
*  If the doctor or medical facility is too slow in providing medical care
   resulting in further medical problems for you. 
*  If the doctor fails to perform a medical procedure that is what you need to 
   recover from injury or illness. 
*  If mistakes were made in prescribing the right medication or prescribing 
   medication that is harmful to you. 
*  If the doctor fails to explain what needs to be done or is negligent in 
   warning you of negative side effects of your treatment.

If you have suffered any kind of negative outcome that is directly related to
your medical treatment on top of your original problem, it's not too hard to
fit what happened to you into this category. If you are a genuine victim of
medical malpractice, identifying that is not always the most difficult part of
the problem though. The most difficult part may be deciding what to do about it.

This is where that "ambulance chaser" aspect of the legal profession can be as
much trouble as they can be of help. To make a decision about whether the
potential outcome of a malpractice suit is worth the effort, you need a
nonbiased viewpoint and advice based on the extent of your grievance and injury
and how much you need the resolution to continue your recovery. When a lawyer or
law firm pursues you so relentlessly to get a malpractice lawsuit going or they
advertise to get that kind of business, you get the idea they are not looking
after your best interest but their own.

Whatever they try to tell you, malpractice legal actions are not as easy to win
as they might seem. There is a lot of burden or proof. So if you feel you have a
case, the best thing is to work with legal advisors whom you trust and know they
are not going to guide you to an action that is not in your best interest.
Sometimes just using that lawyer to negotiate a resolution with the doctor is
the best way to go.

Government Records at our Fingertips

Few know that the internet was actually started as a government project. It was
created by the department of defense as a way of protecting our government's
infrastructure by decentralizing the computing power to many computers rather
than one. But there is no question that the government has benefited from the
move toward electronic records.

Over the last decade, the government has made great strides in putting
virtually all of our public records into electronic data bases. While not all
of them can be accessed freely due to privacy issues, many of them can be
searched by citizens which has introduced an era of open access to public
documents that was unimaginable before. The variety of types of public records
that are either fully available or are in the process of being converted to
online access is amazing including:

*  Marriage records 
*  Birth records 
*  Death records 
*  Sex offender records
*  Court records 
*  Bankruptcy records 
*  Missing persons records 
*  Census records 
*  Credit information

These extensive databases provide a tremendous resource to the public for a
large variety of information needs. For a business, it speeds up the process of
validating information about a potential employees. Before we had online access,
just confirming that a prospective employee is a legal resident, that his or her
background information check out and to confirm that they don't have a criminal
record took an excessive amount of time and effort. It was so cumbersome that
most employers didn't take those steps which could easily lead to an employment

The government record that has gotten the most public attention of late is the
National Sex Offender Registry. Because sex offenders live under restrictions
as to where they can live, work and socialize even after they have served
prison time, many people watch these records closely to assure that they don't
expose their children to risks if a sex offender were allowed to move into
their neighborhood or into an apartment complex near the school.

The balance of the public's right to safety and the individual's right to
privacy come into direct conflict with the public release of this kind of
information that is on file with government records. While it will take some
wise leadership for us to sort that one out, the availability of this much
detailed data does make it possible for the public to stay better informed.

The census is a rich source of information, particularly to businesses looking
to expand or for a new venture that is writing a business plan. The census
provides detailed information about population shifts, concentration of
population in certain cities and even in zones of particular cities that can be
invaluable to a business looking to locate a service or retail outlet where the
potential customer base has convenient access to those services. Census data
can provide a framework for evaluating the wisdom of a potential business

The first step in making this vast data resource part of your research tools is
to educate yourself in both what is available from the government records and
how to access such records. There are commercial internet resources that will
provide search tools to sifting through the huge amount of data available from
the government such as While these sources
charge for the help they provide, that help may be just the thing you need to
make the chore of learning how to use government records less difficult.

Google also provides a good search tool for finding information from government
records. To access it, just click on "Advanced Search" from the main Google home
page. Scroll down to the bottom of that next page and you will see a link titled
U.S. Government. That link will provide you with a search engine, driven by
Google's powerful search capabilities that will help you find what you need.

We can expect to see this resource expanded and made even more accessible in
the years to come as the government's drive to become automated continues. It
is economical for the government, which saves tax dollars. Moreover, it places
the vast information the government gathers at the fingertips of the public.
And this is appropriate as it is the public that pays for government data
gathering in the first place.

Free Money from the Government

There is a humorous commercial that is shown from time to time in which a
rather funny character does his pitch wearing a suit that is covered with
question marks and dollar signs. The man is pretty funny looking in his own
right. But the upshot of the pitch is that you can buy a book from him that
will tell you how to get "free money from the government".

Of course, the book itself is not free and the chances are that the business
and/or the pitchman make their living from selling that book and not from free
money from anyone. But the reason that advertisement is appealing is that we
have an urban myth that the government is overflowing with money that it is
looking to give away if we can just know how to punch the right buttons. This
is the mystique of the system more formally known as government grants.

When you do your homework, it turns out that the truth about government grants
reveals a much different situation than the windfall of funds that they funny
man in the question mark suit might lead us to believe. Now, it's true that the
federal government does issue dozens and dozens of grants for research and other
community related causes each year.

Many of these grants are used to help small businesses get off the ground that
might otherwise flounder. This is one of our government's methods of leveling
the playing field in the business world to give the little guy a chance to get
started. But it is also a way for the government to get funds to worthy
nonprofit efforts that have a mission statement that benefits the community or
the culture at large.

Another insider's trick that the man in the question mark suit doesn't want you
to know is that you can find out all you could ever want to know about
government grants for free. The government wants you to know about these funds
so they can find the most qualified businesses or nonprofit charities to help
out. You can go directly to the government web site on grants and use their
search engine. Use the .gov domain search tool on Google and you will find
ample resources to guide you. Another great resource on the web is the Catalog
of Federal Domestic Assistance which has the tools to find grants by topic and
by your area of expertise,

The misconception that we get in our heads is that because these are "grants",
there is no work to getting or using this governmental money. The process of
applying for and competing to win a government grant can be just as much work
as any job and perhaps even more frustrating because you are in competition
with others for limited resources. Just as some people win at getting
government grants, other people are not granted the money they seek. This is a
part of the gamble of going after a government grant that you must reconcile
yourself to before even you start the process.

Be prepared to be patient, learn about the steps and give each stage in the
development of your application for the grant plenty of time and tender loving
care. You will have to gain a good comprehension of the myriad of government
agencies to find the one who would be most likely to look at you for a grant.

The process of filling out the grant paperwork and submitting your proposal is
a discipline in its own right that you may even have to seek professional help
to do well. But if you do well, use plenty of patience and your project is
worthwhile, there is government out there to help you. You just have to take
the time to learn how to go after it.


We live in a time when there is a lot of debate on how the government might
take measures to assure reliable and affordable resources of power,
particularly in light of our ongoing gas crisis. We also live in a time when we
are trying to find our way as to our role in conservation and the proper way to
handle the natural world so we can live "green" and not damage the environment.
Thirdly, we live in a time of remarkable natural disasters such as devastating
hurricanes, fires and floods.

All of these symptoms remind us of another time in our history when a certain
area of the country was clearly a candidate for some form of government program
to address all of these problems. This area is called the Tennessee Valley in
northern Alabama. The area that was under particular study was known as Muscle
Shoals because of a dramatic drop in elevation of the Tennessee river drops 140
feet in just under 30 miles which creates a series of dramatic and violent
rapids and waterfalls that locals came to refer to as the "Muscle Shoals". It
is an area so well known that it was celebrated in the well known song Sweet
Home Alabama with the verse:

"Now Muscle Shoals has got the swampers. And they've been known to pick a song
or two. Lord they get me off so much. They pick me up when I'm feeling blue.
Now how about you?"

As beautiful and exciting as the shoals were, they did create a number of
problems that was causing disruption to the local population and holding back
progress. This was an area that was highly susceptible to flooding due to the
shoals. Moreover, the uncontrolled water flow made navigation of this segment
of the Tennessee River virtually impossible which hindered commerce.

So the federal government organized a project to place strategic dams along the
Tennessee River and implement other improvements to tame the shoals and create
economic opportunity. The project that was named the Tennessee Valley
Authority. The TVA was highly controversial because then, as now, people were
highly resistant to government interference and big government projects,
particularly those that altered the lifestyle of an entire region of the

The project was launched with the purchase of the land in 1913. However,
because of the opposition to allowing the federal government in to deal with
local issues, the project floundered for decades. Finally President Roosevelt
got the program moving with the Tennessee Valley Authority Act in 1933. This
was a remarkably well rounded piece of legislation that addressed
environmental, economic, conservation and even defense concerns, all of which
would be incorporated into the TVA plan.

What was unique in the Tennessee Valley Act that was uncommon in most
government legislation was the directive that the TVA would set a high priority
on improving both the economic life and the quality of life of residents of all
areas affected by the project. But the transition that was necessary to achieve
the goals of the TVA program was traumatic to the area. In some areas residents
had to be relocated as lands were flooded during dam construction. The image of
big brother coming in and destroying the lifestyle of regular Americans was a
haunting concept that brought tremendous backlash against the project.

But in an unusual demonstration of determination and courage, program
administrators persevered. The result is that today the Tennessee Valley is
prosperous and vibrant. The TVA program of reforestation and conservation has
resulted in the integration of hydroelectric and nuclear power plants with the
local environment. The floods have stopped and the area economy has gone
through a boom because the TVA program has become one of the largest
electricity generation projects in history.

The story of the TVA is a success story for a government program that was
unusual because its whole purpose was to improve the lives of Americans and to
put an end to devastating natural disasters before they occurred. It showed
foresight, planning, concern for citizenry, an awareness of conservation issues
and the courage of conviction that is absent in government in modern times. As
such the TVA stands as an example we should look back on as a time when
government stood for something and followed through when the going got tough.
It is a lesson to us all on how things should work when our political system
works correctly.

The Quiet Heroes -- The Corps of Engineers

Many governmental agencies and organizations get a lot of notice, both positive
and negative. When the tragedy at Waco occurred several years ago in which the
ATF worked to save the lives of so many innocents trapped in the Branch
Dividian compound, the ATF took a lot of criticism when that episode ended
badly. And yet it is the ATF that works so tirelessly to assure that we can be
a nation that enjoys the rights we do but do so safely and within the laws.

FEMA the FBI, CIA, The IRS, Congress, The Supreme Court and of course, the
Presidency all get lots of public attention, both bad and good because what
they do touch the lives of all Americans routinely. But one small agency that
works under the Department of the Army has a tremendous influence on the
quality of life for all Americans. And yet it goes about its good business
quietly as quiet heroes. That agency is the Corps of Engineers.

Most of us think of the Corps of Engineers in regard to the phenomenal works
that were accomplished In the building of the many massive dam projects and
other public works that do so much to control natural resources both to protect
communities against natural disaster such as flooding or hurricanes and to
exploit the natural environment such the drawing of energy from the natural
elements such as the waters with dams.

But few of us know the details about how much the Corps of Engineers do for the
citizens of this country. The Corps of Engineers is actually known as The United
States Army Corps of Engineers or the USACE for short. The USACE employs over
34,000 civilians and approximately 650 from military personnel to pursue a
three-pronged mission which is to:

*  Plan, build, operate, maintain and upgrade dams and other civil engineering
   projects for the public good. 
*  Build and take care of all military instillations for the Army and the Air 
*  Be of service to all defense and other federal agencies when there is a need 
   for design or management of construction projects.

You probably associate the Corps of Engineers with some of the big public works
projects that were done during the great depression or the building of such huge
dams as the Hoover Dam. But the Corps of Engineers actually dates back to the
early days of the life of this country. In 1775, the first congressional order
that evolved into the Corps of Engineers came when the Continental Congress
gave authorization for the building of the Bunker Hill fortifications near
Boston. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson formally created the Corps of Engineers when
they were given the assignment of building the nation's first military academy
at West Point which the Corps of Engineers also operated and headquartered out
of until 1866.

In addition to West Point and the dam projects we already know the Corps of
Engineers for, some of its other notable achievements are:

*  The original fortification of New Orleans after the war of 1812. 
*  The planning and building of the Washington Monument in Washington DC in 
*  The planning and building of the Pentagon. 
*  Assistance with The Manhattan Project which did so much to bring World War II 
   to an end.

These quiet heroes have actually had a major role to play in virtually every
important event or development in the history of the country. And to this day,
we all depend on the Corps of Engineers to assist the government at the
federal, state and local level to assure that construction projects are carried
out correctly. They may not be the most dramatic agency we have, but they have
been steady servants of the country for centuries and will continue to serve in
that role for centuries to come.

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