Thursday, February 17, 2005

Indecent Proposals

Blogging from Washington. If you want to see me and/or Danielle this weekend, let me know.

Anyway, in all the hullaballoo this week about Social Security, the death of the former Lebanese PM, and the nomination of John Negroponte for intel czar, two repulsive laws got through Congressional houses by absurd margins.

The first is a law stiffening penalties for "indecency." So, basically, if the FCC doesn't like what you're broadcasting, they can fine you even more for it. That's comforting. I guess 386 representatives - including my own David Price, who I usually agree with on most things - want to do my thinking for me. Hell, I'm not even sure I see the rationale for this law. I just don't understand what's driving this whole "decency" movement - and I'm usually able to at least see the other side of an argument, even if I don't agree with it. Someone please tell me why the FCC should be able to fine a broadcaster simply because they feel like it.

The second is a law that makes it harder for class action suits to be filed against corporations by moving them to overcrowded federal courts. Seventy-three senators voted to "fix" a system that ain't really broke. For every wacked-out lawsuit out there, there's another thirty that have merit that don't get to court. So quit whining, Corporate America.

You know, the biggest problem with torts is that corporations file too many frivolous ones to discourage individuals from challenging them. So to Republicans, and to half the Democrats, the fix is to make it harder for individuals to sue corporations. Yeah, that makes sense. I guess Republicans have had enough of courts holding corporations responsible for their actions. Gotta give those poor mistreated businessmen another free ride. And don't try to use that lame-ass excuse of how excessive torts hurt the economy. That's a load of crap and you know it.

What really annoys me is that there is a section of law that needs to be reformed - patent law. Currently, patents are so easy for Big Business to get that any innovation probably infringes on some patent, somewhere, somehow. As a result, competition and innovation - the twin engines of a capitalist economy - are both stifled. But this issue is too arcane to make headlines, and probably won't get addressed any time soon. So on with the bullshit, Congress.


Anonymous said...

Amen, brother! Preach it!

That's an ex-Southern Baptist's way of saying "I heartily agree with you."

That damn Congress......

- Ben

Mike said...

I want to see you and/or Danielle this weekend. Just letting you know. Sadly it isn't going to happen.

The answer to your question is, because they're the FCC, they should be able to fine a broadcaster simply because they feel like it. The problem is that we have a government agency controlling media. Wouldn't it be interesting if we just let people decide what they want to watch or listen to?

Good point about patent law. But the trouble with so-called frivolous lawsuits is not really their frivolity, it's the size of the damages. The example everyone tends to hearken back to is the McDonald's coffee lady. She had third degree burns. The lawsuit was not frivolous. BUT she did not deserve millions of dollars in punitive damage.

Then again, not being a law student, I'll defer to Ben on that one. I still think the FCC should be abolished though.

Jeff said...

The point of punitive damages isn't to compensate the victim - of course she doesn't deserve millions of dollars in compensation. The point is to punish the corporation for their misconduct (hence the name). It's necessary because the cost of even the most severe damages is nothing to a multi-billion dollar operation, so just exacting regular damages from them won't stop the misconduct. The only way to hold such a corporation accountable is to take sums of money from them that seem exorbitant to the average individual. Capping or ending punitive damages just opens the door to more corner-cutting in corporate operations.

That having been said, punitive damages should probably go to some sort of community service fund rather than to the plaintiff - this would help eliminate the possibility of people exploiting product weaknesses for their own personal enrichment and still punish misconduct.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, that might eliminate the incentive for people to seek punitive damages. But it does seem more just for plaintiffs not to get that windfall.

By the way, about McDonalds...what you never hear in the media is that McDonalds knew their coffee could cause third-degree burns upon touching the skin. But they also knew that hot coffee sold better b/c it would still be warm by the time the buyer got to work. They had determined ahead of time that it would be worth it to pay off the occasional burn victim w/ the $ from increased coffee sales. THAT'S why McDonald's was fined so much.

As for the FCC, I'm not sure abolishing it is the answer. Someone's gotta assign rights in the limited range of cable and broadcast channels....although maybe there's another equally orderly way to do it. But I WOULD limit the FCC's power to patrol networks for "indecency." Oh, btw, apparently they have a policy of investigating every complaint. A friend of mine has said we should all call and complain about Fox News or something innocuous like The Weather Channel. Not sure filing false complaints wouldn't get us in trouble, but it sounds like a fun idea.

- Ben

Anonymous said...

I'm bored checking your blog and finding nothing new. Contrary to the title of your blog, I'm asking for more opinions!

- Ben