Sunday, November 01, 2015

Fred Dalton Thompson, R.I.P.

Fred Dalton Thompson at 1973 Senate Watergate hearings between Florida Senator Gurney and Tennessee Senator Howard Henry Baker, Jr., Thompson's mentor  (Gurney was later indicted, tried and acquitted on bribery charges).

Fred Dalton Thompson in "The Hunt for Red October" movie, based on Tom Clancy novel (1989)

RIP, Fred Dalton Thompson.  
Fred Thompson was noted for his Watergate committee lawyering, his courageous trial lawyer work on behalf of Tennessee pardon and parole board whistleblower plaintiff Marie Ragghianti and for his marvelous acting career, including some of my favorite movies and one of my favorite tv shows (The Hunt For Red October, Marie and Law & Order).
Less well known was Senator Thompson's March 22, 2000 hearing and subsequent shoddy coverup of the U.S. Department of Energy, predecessors and contractors like Union Carbide and Lockheed Martin poisoning and sickening some 600,000 nuclear weapons plant workers, leading to enactment of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA), which I called the $150,000 bribe bill.
The DOE-drafted EEOICPA, pushed by Thompson, is deeply flawed.  While EEOICPA has disbursed billions of dollars in "CONpensation" payments, it is still  denying workers fair hearings, discovery, appeals and due process.
Thompson died of lymphoma, one of those radiogenic cancers that so many downwinders and many nuclear weapons plant workers die from, poisoned by our own government.
As I informed a House subcommittee's September 2000 hearing:
Senate Amendment 3250 to S. 2549, the Thompson-DOE amendment does not require:
1.         Coverage of all sick workers and residents hurt by DOE toxicants.
2.         Full funding of lifetime compensation and medical benefits by making the polluters pay.
3.         Open public hearings with testimony under oath before independent DOL administrative law judges, as provided for black lung claims (instead, the Thompson amendment uses government doctors to decide claims).
4.         Subpoena power and easy access to documents and answers from DOE and contractor managers (incredibly, Thompson amendment requires a separate federal court lawsuit to force discovery, after first waiting 180 days!).
5.         Appeals to the DOL Benefits Review Board and judicial review by the Court of Appeals, as provided for black lung and longshore workers' compensation claims.
6.         Strict action-forcing deadlines for government action, with claims being granted if the government waits too long.
7.         Payment of full reasonable attorney fees, expert witness fees and other litigation expenses at market rates and a ban on attorney solicitation and percentage contingency fees, as in black lung (instead, attorneys would be free to charge contingency fees, reducing the $200,000 lump sum to as little as $100,000 after expenses).
8.         An end to the Federal Tort Claims Act discretionary function exemption for ultrahazardous activities, preserving worker rights to sue.
9.         Coverage for genetic injuries to spouses, families, children and grandchildren of workers and for injuries caused by dangerous chemicals and heavy metals like cyanide, mercury and hydrogen fluoride.
10.       Independence of the Department of Energy in deciding compensation and independent lifetime medical care and research, free of influence by DOE and its contractors.

Rather than a fitting memorial to sick workers and residents whose suffering made the Cold War victory possible, Sen. Thompson's bill is guaranteed to result in denials and delays.  What is this weak DOE-drafted Senate Floor amendment going to accomplish?
Do DOE and Sen. Thompson think that U.S. government doctors lacking in independence could fairly decide cases? He must not remember the Reagan administration's efforts to pressure independent Social Security Administration administrative law judges to deny benefits, sending SSA judges those who found too many workers disabled to what Rep. Frank called "remedial judging school."
In one of my favorite movies, "The Hunt for Red October," a U.S. Navy admiral (portrayed by none other than veteran character actor Fred Dalton Thompson) said (I must paraphrase): "The Russians don't (go to the bathroom) without a plan." What is DOE's plan?  DOE wants to prevent workers from using subpoena power to prove their injuries in open public hearings.  DOE wants to conceal wrongdoing while throwing crumbs to its victims.   If the devil is in the details, then the Thompson-DOE Amendment is an energumen: it will not silence the victims or meet their needs.

Here's The New York Times 1005 word obituary, 202 words shorter than that on one of DOE's many victims (Lockheed Martin/Oak Ridge National Laboratory whistleblower Charles D. Varnadore, one of my former clients who stood up to the oppression of Lockheed Martin, for which Thompson's son Tony worked as a louche lobbyist):

Fred D. Thompson, a former United States senator, actor and Republican presidential candidate, died on Sunday in Nashville. He was 73.

The cause was a recurrence of lymphoma, his family said in a statement.

Mr. Thompson had an unusual career, moving back and forth between national politics and mass-market entertainment. He left a regular role on the hit NBC drama “Law & Order” to run for president in 2008.

On television and on movie screens, Mr. Thompson was known for playing authoritative characters, but he was sometimes ambivalent in his political aspirations. While he brought gravitas to his on-screen characters, he often struggled on the campaign trail, especially during his unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

THE DOWN-HOME CANDIDATE Mr. Thompson, running for Senate in Tennessee in 1994, almost quit the race before renting a truck to campaign around the state.The Long Run: Fred Thompson Took Own Path in the SenateSEPT. 30, 2007
Mr. Thompson compiled a solidly conservative voting record in the Senate, though aides said he showed little enthusiasm for divisive battles over abortion and other issues that motivated the religious right. In a 2007 interview, he told The New York Times that he had always felt that the Senate “was never meant to be the place where I would stay for my entire career.”

“You are either going to do the right thing, or you’re not,” he said. “If you are politically tacking all the time, it makes life too long and too complicated.”

Mr. Thompson, a lawyer, began his life in public service at the age of 30 with a lucky break when his mentor, Senator Howard H. Baker Jr., chose him over more experienced candidates to serve as Republican counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee.

His tough questioning of Alexander Butterfield, a former aide to President Richard M. Nixon, led to the revelation of recording devices in the Oval Office, a turning point in the investigation that ended in the president’s resignation. After the committee concluded its work, Mr. Thompson embarked on a lucrative legal and lobbying career.

He began acting when he was tapped to play himself in the 1985 movie “Marie.” The film, starring Sissy Spacek, was based on the life of Marie Ragghianti, the head of the Tennessee Board of Pardons and Paroles and a whistleblower, who revealed a clemency-selling scandal that brought down the Tennessee governor, Leonard Ray Blanton. Mr. Thompson had been Ms. Ragghianti’s lawyer.

By the time Mr. Baker talked him into running in a 1994 special election to fill the Senate seat from Tennessee vacated by Vice President Al Gore, Mr. Thompson had 18 movie credits, including “No Way Out,” “Days of Thunder” and “In the Line of Fire.”

On Election Day, he swept aside his Democratic opponent, Representative Jim Cooper, with 60 percent of the vote. In 1996, he just as easily won a full six-year term.

Mr. Gore issued a statement Sunday evening in which he praised Mr. Thompson for his dedication to public service.

“At a moment of history’s choosing, Fred’s extraordinary integrity while working with Senator Howard Baker on the Watergate Committee helped our nation find its way,” Mr. Gore said. “I was deeply inspired by his matter-of-fact, no-nonsense moral courage in that crucible. Tennessee and our nation owe a great debt to Fred Thompson.”

Mr. Thompson served eight years in the Senate before leaving his seat in 2002 for a role on “Law & Order.” He played Arthur Branch, a Manhattan district attorney.

Mr. Thompson believed his biggest role was yet to come, however, and in 2007 he asked the producers of “Law & Order” to release him from his contract so he could explore a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

His supporters hoped that his on-screen charisma and small-town roots could make him into a modern-day Ronald Reagan, another conservative actor turned politician, but it was not to be. Mr. Thompson’s campaign was often languid and failed to attract significant support in the primaries, and he withdrew from the race in January 2008.

“Fred Thompson lived life to the very fullest,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and one of Mr. Thompson’s Republican colleagues in the Senate. “The first in his family to go to college, Fred would go on to become Watergate lawyer, Senate colleague, presidential candidate, radio personality, and icon of silver and small screen alike, who didn’t just take on criminals as an actor but as a real-life prosecutor, too.”

Mr. Thompson was born on Aug. 19, 1942, in Sheffield, Ala., and grew up in the small town of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., where he was a top athlete and his father sold used cars.

He was 17 when he married Sarah Elizabeth Lindsey in September 1959. They each worked to pay for his education — Mr. Thompson graduated in 1964 from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) and received a law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967 — and to raise three children. After finishing law school, he joined the law firm of his wife’s uncle and in 1969 was appointed an assistant United States attorney in Nashville.

The couple divorced in 1985. A daughter from that marriage, Elizabeth (Betsy) Thompson Panici, died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in 2002.

In 2002, Mr. Thompson married Jeri Kehn, a Republican consultant, and they had two children.

n April 2007, Mr. Thompson disclosed that he had been diagnosed three years earlier with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. He said at the time that the cancer was in remission and that he had no symptoms.

In a statement on Sunday, his family said that growing up in a small town in Tennessee “formed the prism through which he viewed the world and shaped the way he dealt with life” and reinforced for him the values of hard work and a belief in American exceptionalism.

“Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of Lawrenceburg,” his family said.

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