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Just Don't Call Them the Suers

By Al Kamen
Friday, July 14, 2006; A19

The venerable Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA), the folks who sue tobacco companies, asbestos users, car manufacturers and so on for humungous amounts of money -- and are the targets themselves of the business community -- is changing its name.

It's now going to be called the American Association for Justice. (This edged out runner-up suggestion "Association for Apple Pie, Motherhood and the American Way," or AAPMAW.)

President Kenneth M. Suggs , in a June 28 letter to members, said the ATLA board voted 91 to 5 for the change. "Our research shows that if our message is about helping lawyers, we lose," Suggs said. "On the other hand, if we're about getting justice and holding wrongdoers accountable, we win. . . . And what we do is fight for justice -- for our clients and all Americans each and every day."

Naturally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce got Suggs's letter and is responding next week with an ad campaign having fun with the name change.

"Trial lawyers are at the bottom of the list" in public favorability tests, Lisa A. Rickard , president of the chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, said yesterday. "No one did this to them. They did it to themselves. They can change their name, but it's not going to change how people feel about trial lawyers. We've been around since 1911," she added, and "we're not changing our name."

It's All in the Name, Part II

There was an all-hands meeting last month at the CIA to meet the new chief, Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden , who was overwhelmingly confirmed despite some Senate concerns about his role in warrantless wiretaps of American international telephone calls and about having an active military officer running the civilian agency.

The agency veterans gathered in "The Bubble," the name for the large auditorium there, for a little Q&A with Hayden, an intelligence veteran who adroitly fielded their policy-focused questions.

But then one person in the audience got up and said something like "The person you replaced, we called 'Porter.' The one before that, 'George.' What should we call you? 'Sir'? 'General'? 'Mike?' "

Hayden, in uniform as would be expected of an active-duty four-star, said, after a pause that is most unusual for him, "whatever you feel most comfortable with."

Well, those of us around here who know him call him "Mike," if that's any help.

The Quid. Where's the Pro Quo?

And now, a little bit of humor, something sorely lacking when it comes to the Middle East, from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad , speaking here this week to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"With regard to Iran, as I said, it is at least a two-track approach," he said. "The change in Iraq obviously was welcomed by Iran. Iran sought to overthrow Saddam itself, as it tried to deal with the Taliban problem on the other front and did not. I used to meet with the Iranian ambassador. I had the authority to -- authorization to meet with him when I was in Afghanistan, and I used to joke with him that 'you guys ought to be much more helpful to us, because look, you couldn't deal with the Taliban problem, you couldn't deal with Saddam problem, and we've dealt with both. Oh, that's a big deal. We'll send you a bill one day for that.' "

According to the transcript, there was "soft laughter."

Tangled Up in Tubes

The chairman of the Senate commerce committee, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), on the other hand, had the blogosphere chuckling when he explained his opposition to the fiercely debated "Net neutrality" amendment being marked up June 28 in his committee.

Cable and telephone companies oppose the amendment, which would bar them from charging additional fees to folks such as Google, Microsoft and other big users of the Web, even though those companies use more bandwith than others.

Stevens noted, by way of example, businesses that offer movies on the Internet, rather than, say, selling them via the mail. This clogs things up, he explained.

"You order your movie," he said, "and guess what? You can order 10 of them delivered to you and the delivery charge is free, right? Ten [movies] streaming across that Internet and what happens to your own personal Internet?" he asked.

"I just the other day got an Internet that was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday [apparently June 23] and I got it yesterday," Stevens said. Five whole days to get an e-mail.

"Why?" Stevens asked. "Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially."

It's all because businesses want to do these things "to save money" when they "deliver . . . vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes."

So the next time someone sends you "an Internet" and you don't get it for days, it's because the tubes of your own personal Internet got tangled.

For a full rendition of Stevens's speech, go to http://media.publicknowledge.org/stevens-on-nn.mp3 .

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