Archive for May 14th, 2012
On his most recent show, Bill Moyers discusses the heightened polarization in the political discourse with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who runs the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, including the sites FactCheck.org (which monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players) and FlackCheck.org (which tracks patterns of political deception). This is a high-quality discussion well worth watching.
The starting point for the discussion was the defeat of Senator Lugar, who was accused by his more conservative opponent of working with Barack Obama to dismantle the world’s stocks of aging nuclear weapons to make sure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Cooperating with the enemy (in this case, a member of the opposing political party) has become a mortal sin. The result is, politically speaking, we cannot any longer talk with each other. Jamieson spreads the blame in many directions; this is not your typical polarized pundit who aims her arrows only at the other party. For instance, Factcheck.org has challenged Barack Obama’s Life of Julia illustration as being based on “some false or dubious assumptions.”
According to Jamieson, the following questions should be the focus of our budget disputes and the upcoming election: “How do we afford this level of government, if we want to keep it? Do we want to keep it? How are we going to pay for it? If we’re going to cut, where are we going to cut?”
The campaigns of Obama and Romney are mostly devoid of economic facts, “depriving us of the common ground we need.” She explains that if this trend continues, massive damage will be done to this country. What do you do to force these issues? The media needs to take charge: These questions regarding spending priorities need to be repeated endlessly at debates until they are actually answered. (min 12). Check out the simple questions that need to be asked, but usually aren’t, and are never answered in political debates (last half of min 12):
That’s what we need to do in the presidential debates. We’re going to have them. When they don’t answer the question, the next person up should forgo his or her question and ask the question again. And if the entire debate simply has to ask the question then let’s ask, what about Simpson-Bowles don’t you like, Mr. President? You know, Governor Romney? What about it do you like? Are you ready to advance– to say that we should move the Social Security age to 70 in some kind of a phased-in structure?
Should we be doing means testing in some ways? What are your alternatives? When you say you’re going to reform the tax code, is that an excuse for saying you’re going to do nothing? How much money can you get out of the reforms that you were offering? And what are you going to eliminate and what are you going to cut? Right now we’re playing this game. Right now you’ve got the Ryan budget proposal.
BILL MOYERS: Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Uh-huh. And to his credit, there is a proposal there. The first thing the Democrats did a response was to say, “Ha, we’re going to assume he’s cutting everything across the board.” So they started pushing on the assumption that this good thing is going to be cut. This good thing, this good thing by “X” percent.
Congressman Ryan responds, “No, I’m going to get rid of some things entirely, and I’m going to preserve some things entirely. And I’m going to cut some things.” That’s actually the beginning of a productive exchange. Now the question is what for both sides? And let’s get the public on board to accept that there’s some things we take for granted now we’re not going to have. There’s some costs we’re not now paying that we’re going to have to pay. It’s necessary to preserve our country.
Jamieson came to this discussion with ideas for improving our deplorable situation. I very much like this one:
I would like to see a proposal that Harvard floated a number of years ago, that we devote Sunday nights, from the beginning of the general election period through the election, to intensive discussions with presidential candidates about the serious issues of the day. I think you’d find an attentive audience for that. And I think the person who’s elected would find that he was better able to govern if the public had had that opportunity. The public isn’t stupid. The public actually is smart in some important ways.
Moyers asked whether our political system is close to collapsing “of its own absurdity.” Jamieson doesn’t mince her words (min 16):
We’re close right now to having a campaign run on attack and irrelevant arguments that are highly deceptive and, as a result, make it extremely difficult to solve the problems facing the country, which is what all the concern about money and politics is well justified and why we ought to worry about trying to vigilantly hold the super PACs and the third-party advertisers accountable.
Now, what are the consequences of high level of attack? You don’t have a reason to vote for someone. You’re only being told why to vote against. Hence, no projection of what the alternatives are and no understanding of the trade-offs in government . . . We’re going to have high level of attack; hence, no relevance to governance and votes against. And that we’re going to have high level of deception; hence, people who feel betrayed once they see actual governance or who vote against a candidate they might otherwise support.
The problem with modern political advertising is not framed properly by the use of the phrase “negative advertising”:
I don’t like to use the word “negative” because it conflates legitimate and illegitimate attack and because negative to most people means duplicitous. [The big problem occurs] when there’s a differential in spending and a high level of deception tied to a high level attack because now you have the worst possible consequences.
The New Yorker offers a detailed behind the scenes look of the final decision of Citizens United. In this article, Jeffrey Toobin credits Chief Justice John Roberts with the way the Court analyzed and ruled on the case:
Citizens United is a distinctive product of the Roberts Court. The decision followed a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the Justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case. The case, too, reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court. It was once liberals who were associated with using the courts to overturn the work of the democratically elected branches of government, but the current Court has matched contempt for Congress with a disdain for many of the Court’s own precedents. When the Court announced its final ruling on Citizens United, on January 21, 2010, the vote was five to four and the majority opinion was written by Anthony Kennedy. Above all, though, the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.
Fair Contracts (faircontracts.org) is a website dedicated to encouraging the use of only one type of contract: the kind that ordinary people can read and understand. Here, based on an excerpt from the Fair Contracts website, is the problem:
The Problem with Standard Form Contracts
Many businesses use standard form contracts, pre-printed contracts filled with fine print, in transactions with individual consumers. These contracts are usually “boilerplate,” “take-it-or-leave it,” non-negotiable contracts.
The problem presented by many of these contracts can be summed up as unequal bargaining power — between the consumer and the corporate entity that uses them.
Corporations use these contracts to have uniformity and efficiency by reducing the costs to them of negotiating with consumers on an individual basis. Consumers sign these kinds of contracts routinely — usually never reading, much less understanding, the fine print they contain. And there is the rub.
The party with superior power — the corporate entity that drafts the contract — can use the fine print, coupled with the knowledge that the consumer rarely, if ever, reads the terms, to take advantage of the unsuspecting consumer in the underlying transaction.
Consumers often make purchases based on price and quality, but there are a number of other factors in the fine print of these transactions that merit consumer attention: These provisions may, and often do, work against consumer interests. Though some say consumers can always walk with their feet or dollars and choose to not engage in these transactions, often the consumer, having not read the fine print, is completely unaware of these provisions until the corporation tries to enforce them against the consumer. Worse, often entire industries have contracts containing these unfair provisions, thereby leaving the consumer with no meaningful alternate choice. Even worse, businesses often reserve for themselves the right to modify or change the terms of the contract, making comparison shopping pointless if the contract or the prospective contract is always subject to change.
To add insult to injury, these contracts often contain forced arbitration, venue and/or choice-of- law provisions, so resolution of disputes no longer even takes place in a public courtroom forum, but in a private, business-dominated industry of arbitrators, who are neither required to follow the rule of law, nor are subject to its oversight. Contract law and a consumer’s day in court has been “privatized” to a process whose outcomes are often unknowable and unchallengeable.
[T]he modern-day reality with fine print in standard form contracts is that there is no mutuality of assent, and there is often no time for or inclination by the consumer to read the terms, or even an ability to cross comparison shop those terms. And even if the consumer did try to comparison shop, it wouldn’t do much good if the sellers can always change their terms and insulate their provisions from meaningful judicial review. This adds up to a fiction in the law of contracts and makes a mockery of the idea of consumer freedom in a free market.
Ralph Nader shares these concerns:
This problem of consumers failing to understand critically important contracts if rife in the field of real estate mortgages. Consider, for example, the findings reported by law professor Jeff Sovern, that “more than two-thirds of the brokers reported that less than 30% of their borrowers spent more than a minute with the disclosures.” From “Preventing Future Economic Crises Through Consumer Protection Law or How the Truth in Lending Act Failed the Subprime Borrowers,” p. 786. Here’s another excerpt:
The brokers were nearly unanimous in reporting that borrowers never withdrew from a loan after reading the final TILA disclosures at the closing and never used those disclosures for their stated purpose of comparison shopping for loans. In addition, brokers reported that many borrowers spent a minute or less with the disclosures, despite the fact that mortgage loans are among the largest, longest-term, and most complex obligations most consumers ever assume. It thus appears that many borrowers enter into their mortgages without comprehending the terms and the ramifications of those loans.
Sovern has many ideas for un-tilting the playing field. One of those ideas is for independent consumer agencies to review form contracts and to grade them for consumers. The current problem is that consumers have no incentive to read fine print contracts and businesses have no incentive to draft contracts in readable form.
Long Island police make mother of three pay for taking photos of decorative helicopter in front of airport.
This case involving Nancy Genovese is but one of many cases where law enforcement officers have been exposed for harassing and hurting people who are guilty of absolutely nothing.
It’s a long trend here in the United States. The government can spy all it wants, while the people are increasingly prohibited from expressing themselves or even from being curious. A lot of people are squeamish about Wikileaks, but it Wikileaks is an organization that does nothing different than the New York Times claims to be doing, yet the United States has illegally forced it into submission.
And although Nancy Genovese did not claim to be doing serious investigative journalism, the American Vision News reports that she was was acting as a citizen journalist:
Nancy Genovese stopped her car on the side of the road across the street from the airport in an area that is open and accessible to the public, and crossed over the road to the airport entryway that is also open and accessible to the public to take a picture of the helicopter display. While still in her car, she took a picture of the decorative helicopter shell with the intention of posting it on her personal “Support Our Troops” web page.