P> Editor's Note: Welcome to our inaugural Nutscape, a column devoted to shedding some sunlight on some of the truly nutty ideas hyped in high-technology and business and bandied about the non-Netscape world.

Come for the Weather, Stay for Your Lawsuit

In a New York minute, Nutscape will zoom out to California. But first, we must show why President Clinton's recent flip-flop on a bill to limit court-awarded payments in consumer product liability cases is a classic Nutscape item.

In the beginning, Clinton presented himself as on board with age-overdue court reform. Last weekend, he bailed, saying he'll veto the bill.

For those browsing this through a 13-inch TV, Nutscape wants to be clear: The Association of Trial Lawyers of America are big-time Clinton contributors, and this national army of 60,000-plus attorneys represents the biggest pig herd at the trough of the current system. They slop up as much as 40 percent of awards to their clients.

Okay. So Clinton weaseled, and the Trial Lawyers slop over some of the lucre to fund the Clinton campaign. What's that got to do with California?

Nutscape thinks a few statistics tell some of the story. Nationwide, 35 of every 100 people in damage-causing car accidents claim bodily injury. In California, the number is 65 of every 100. It gets better. In Los Angeles -- a Trial Lawyers haven -- people claim injury 99 percent of the time.

Anyway, a subset of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the powerful California Trial Lawyers Association -- shrewdly renaming themselves the "Consumers' Attorneys of California" -- are spending $1 million a week to defeat a California ballot measure that would limit plaintiff claims to such things as neck injuries in car accidents. These guys are also out there trying to shoot down other aspects of the reform petition that seek to inject reasonable limits on shareholder lawsuits, consumer damages and product liability judgments.

There's a lot at stake, obviously, and while Nutscape recognizes greed as an intrinsic, albeit uneducated, human characteristic, greed dressed in consumer-advocate clothing is a Nutscape item that deserves ridicule.

So here we go: Clinton calls a "Trial Lawyers summit" on Marin County's Mount Tam. How many Trial Lawyers would it take to get to fund the summit, and how many ambulances would they need?

Chicken Little

Nutscape salutes William Stevens, a New York Times science reporter who was just awarded the prestigious Chicken Little Award from the National Anxiety Center in Maplewood, N.J. There was no controversy either in Stevens' nomination or eventual triumph. The annual Chicken Little goes "to organizations and individuals who have scared the daylights out of millions of people."

Specifically, Stevens won for "writing 90 articles since 1990 devoted to convincing Americans that global warming is occurring when there is no scientific data to support this claim. In January, at the height of the blizzard which hit the East Coast, Stevens actually blamed it on global warming."

Nutscape urges the National Anxiety Center to review coverage of computer viruses. Despite repeated media coverage of the havoc soon to ensue from this or that virus, not a single prediction turned out to be true. Nutscape sees what's really happening here: An anti-virus software company issues a news release warning of the dire consequences of some virus. Editors gulp at the stuff, great copy! Shortly thereafter, the same company issues another news release discussing the newly created anti-virus software to combat the threat. The editors love that story, too.

But back to Timesman Stevens. Fresh off his Chicken Little, isn't it about time he became an editor? Nutscape thinks he'd make even more money as a publicist for Trial Lawyers scanning for victims of global warming.

Send Nutscape items to with "Nutscape" in the subject line.

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