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Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

What are you willing to sacrifice?

That’s a question every white person should be asking themselves right now.

“What am I willing to sacrifice in order to be anti-racist and resist the Trump administration?”

If the answer is “nothing,” you’re part of the problem, and you’ve come to the wrong place. Part of talking with other white people, especially those we know well, is that there have to be consequences for bad behavior. If someone you know is racist, and their beliefs are never challenged and they never face consequences for it, why would they change? Maybe they don’t deserve your loyalty or the gift of your company anymore.

I fully expect to be ending relationships with people in the days and weeks ahead. I used to be able to agree to disagree on politics. Not anymore. Someone who cannot see my humanity and the humanity of millions of Americans is not someone I want in my life.

If, however, there are people in your life you think can change, or if you need to work on your own views, here are some more things to think about:

–If a person of color says something or someone is racist, don’t argue with them. Don’t say “well, actually,” or defend the racism. The same applies if someone tells you that you have said or done something racist. Don’t be defensive. Don’t deny it. You’re being given a chance to identify and change your behavior. Take it and be grateful. An example of how not to act would be Ellen DeGeneres. She has done racist things on her show and continues to deny her racism. (This is also why the “I have a black friend so I can’t be racist” trope is false. DeGeneres is clearly a fan of Barack and Michelle Obama, yet she obviously at the same time holds racist views about black people.) It doesn’t matter what her intentions were. Few people would admit to being deliberately racist.

A good example of how to behave is Chris Hemsworth, who this year apologized for appropriating First Nations clothing at a party.  He didn’t make excuses. He acknowledged he should have known better and apologized. That’s how it’s done.

–Don’t be the person who says “talking about racism is racist.” Talking about racism is its only possible solution.

–Know that racism is not a mental illness. Neither is sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, or Islamophobia. They are learned behaviors. Mental illnesses are not. That’s why it’s dangerous (and ableist) to dismiss Trump and people with similar views as “crazy,” “nutjobs,” “lunatic,” etc. It denies the racist person agency and obscures the fact they have control over their behavior. They can choose not to be racist, or sexist, or homophobic, etc. People who are mentally ill cannot choose not to be.

–Speaking of ableism, people who are disabled and receive government support are some of the most vulnerable under a Trump administration. Cuts to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security/SSDI are literally a matter of life and death for some people. Do not forget them and their struggle. One of the things that struck me about the deaths caused by Hurricane Matthew was how many of the people used wheelchairs. We must do better for people with disabilities so they can lead full, healthy lives. Consider donating to Human Rights Watch or Disability Rights Advocates.

–Finally, here are some good resources for how to have those hard conversations with people at Thanksgiving (itself a racist holiday) this year:

How to Tell Someone They Should Racist by the incomparable Jay Smooth

A post-election guide to changing hearts and minds

Speak up: Responding to everyday bigotry

 

 

 

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What white people need to do to resist the Trump administration

After the violence and protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, I started following journalist Sarah Kendzior on Twitter. She was a local white woman who had a lot of insightful commentary. Eventually she started posting about Donald Trump and the danger he posed to the country. I didn’t disagree with her, but she was also sure he would win. I thought that she was being alarmist. I knew what the polls said. I knew many people who had worked to re-elect President Obama were also working for Hillary Clinton. I was pretty confident we would get the right woman for the job. Last spring, I muted Kendzior.

Then, of course, everything she predicted came true. Trump won the election, and his bizarre behavior over the course of the campaign made sense through the authoritarian lens Kendzior provided from reporting on Central Asian dictatorships.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am not paranoid. But I believe the United States is heading toward being an authoritarian dictatorship faster than the majority of the population realizes. I underestimated the threat Trump posed once. I will not do it again. We cannot afford to. As the saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And because Americans are convinced of our exceptionalism, believe “it can’t happen here,” it will. It already is, faster than most of us can keep track.

This is not normal is only a partial list of all of the things that are abnormal–racist, misogynist, corrupt, immoral, etc–about the incoming administration. Every day, there are more things to add to it. It’s difficult to keep up, which is why a lot of it isn’t being reported as vigorously as it should be. Trump settled a fraud lawsuit over Trump University. His daughter is sitting in on visits with foreign dignitaries. White supremacists are being nominated for Cabinet posts. NONE OF THIS IS NORMAL.

This is not politics as usual. This is the freedom of our country and the world at stake. As someone on Twitter so aptly put it, the United States is one terrorist attack away from becoming a military state. And there are no checks on his power. The Republicans will go along with it. Democrats may put up a token resistance but people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, supposedly liberal lions, are already talking about compromising with Trump.

There is no compromising with a fascist.

Our institutions have failed us. The only thing we have is ourselves. Our belief in a better world than the one Trump envisions. The certainty that he and his supporters are a minority of the population. Roughly half of the voting population didn’t (or couldn’t, because of suppression) vote, about 25 percent voted for Hillary, and slightly less than that voted for Trump. Hillary won the popular vote by more than 1 million votes (and counting). There is reasonable suspicion that Russia hacked our systems and swung things Trump’s way. At the very least, there should be an investigation into foreign interference in a U.S. election.

I believe dire times are ahead; indeed, they are already here. The day after the election, there were reports of up to eight trans youths who had completed suicide because they were terrified of living under a Trump administration. Another woman had a friend complete suicide because she knew her health care would be taken away, and she could not live without it. Hundreds of hate crimes have taken place. And it will undoubtedly escalate.

There is little good news to be found since Nov. 8. However, there ARE things we can do to resist Trump and fight for the future. Here is a far-from-complete list:

–First, no safety pins. Most people who are being targeted by Trump–people of color, immigrants, Muslims–see this as an empty gesture with little real effect. And white supremacists are already planning to co-opt it and use the pins as bait to attack unsuspecting people.

–Call your senators and representatives and let them know you oppose any effort to put Steven Bannon and Jeff Sessions in the White House. Calling is more effective than emailing. If aides are on the phone all day taking calls, their bosses will hear about it. Call regardless of which party your representatives are. Let them know you are watching them closely and will hold them accountable for their actions.

–Donate to organizations that will be on the front lines: the ACLU, your local abortion fund, Planned Parenthood, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Trevor Project, CAIR, Sacred Stone Camp (fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline), Black Lives Matter, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center.

–Reach out to your local mosque, synagogue, temple, and black church and ask what you can do to help. Let them know you will stand with them in the coming months and years.

–Consider running for office. Too many down-ballot Republicans run unopposed. Republicans understand many of the decisions affecting people’s everyday lives are made at the local level. Democrats haven’t made many strides here. If you can’t run for office, recruit your friends to do it.

–Donate to Foster Campbell, a Democrat running for Senate in Louisiana. He’s in a runoff election in December and could secure another seat for the Democrats in the Senate, which would be crucial. If you’re near Louisiana, consider volunteering for him. Encourage your friends and family nearby to do the same.

–Donate to and volunteer with your state Democratic Party. This is important for many reasons. First, the statehouses are the ones that do the redistricting for congressional seats. There will be a census in 2020, and whichever party is in control at the time will determine the congressional districts. In 2010, Democrats didn’t turn out to vote, and Republicans swept to power in statehouses across the country. They gerrymandered districts so that even though House Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote nationwide, Republicans are safely in control of the House. We cannot let them continue to dominate statehouses. Second, it takes three-fourths of states to ratify amendments to the Constitution. If many more statehouses turn Republican, they will have a clear path to doing away with any amendment they don’t like (for example, the First), and adding any amendment they please (forbidding marriage equality, ensuring lifetime terms for presidents, prohibiting abortion, whatever your nightmare scenario might be). The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is a nationwide group devoted to putting Democrats in more statehouses.

–Work to restore voting rights to disenfranchised people and felons. Voter suppression worked exactly the way the Republicans wanted. We must push back against this and work to expand voting rights. It’s crucial to our democracy.

–President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder have created the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which has a similar goal to the DLCC. Watch for more information on that and how you can get involved.

–Hold people accountable for normalizing Trump. There is no “everyone does it,” “both parties do it,” “nothing to worry about here.” Every. Single. Thing. He. Does. Is. Not. Normal. The media have already started by refusing to call white supremacists what they are. They won’t call a racist racist or a fascist fascist. Words have meaning. We need to use them.

–Read this and believe it: Autocracy: Rules for Survival

Read this.

–Lastly, but most importantly, we white people need to work on our racism. Many anti-racism activists and researchers, including Jane Elliott, believe we are all racist simply for growing up in the country we did. The United States is a country built on racism–first the genocide and colonization of indigenous people, then slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration. We have never acknowledged any of it. Too many white people, who often only know other white people, believe racism is a thing of the past. They think black people talk about racism too much. They insist “I don’t see color.” It’s easy not to think about race when you’re white because it affords us so much privilege. We aren’t targeted by police for being white. We’re not incarcerated at higher rates for being white. We’re not denied housing, education and employment for being white. We don’t die at earlier ages because we’re white. The list goes on.

We are all taught racism, if not by our parents, then by our culture. I grew up in a predominantly white area. There were no black students in my class until I got to high school. I had maybe two teachers who were people of color until I got to college, though I did have one white science teacher who would perform in blackface each year for his lessons on George Washington Carver. This teacher admired Carver and I’m sure he thought he was honoring Carver by wearing blackface. The administration allowed this. My classmates thought it eccentric but not incredibly racist, as it is for me in hindsight.

My classmates were more likely to be Asian–Chinese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Pakistani–than black. There were two or three black students in my class of 300+ people. And it never occurred to me to discriminate against them for anything, but it also didn’t occur to me until years later how hard it must have been for them to live and grow up and learn in such a white area.

So, just because you don’t go around saying the n-word, that doesn’t mean you can congratulate yourself on not being racist. Being non-racist is a lifelong process. It’s a matter of degree. It’s being able to call each other out when we mess up. It’s being able to admit most of our favorite popular culture is racist–because most of it is created by white people. And it’s important to remember that liking it doesn’t automatically make you a bad person. But it’s also important to know that the issues are there.

Some favorites who are problematic: Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American ancestry, which genealogy has disproved. She has never really apologized or had a conversation about why what she did was wrong. That is racist. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which I love dearly, is racist. Her new series is racist. The Lord of the Rings is racist. Star Wars is racist. Katy Perry is racist. Gwen Stefani is racist. Johnny Depp is racist and an abuser. Cultural appropriation is a real thing. Stealing someone’s culture and identity for your own use is racist and wrong. White people having dreadlocks is racist. Saying things like “you speak English so well” is racist. Asking a person of color where they’re from is racist. Buying into the “welfare queen” stereotype is racist (the majority of welfare beneficiaries are white, not black). Consuming all-white media and not criticizing whitewashing is racist.

It’s also racist to think there is such a thing as reverse racism. Racism is based on power structures. As long as there has been a United States, white people have held the power. White people have never been an oppressed population here. So people of color may dislike white people as a group or stereotype them, but they cannot be racist against white people. However, they can be racist against fellow people of color. White supremacy is a powerful thing, and it rewards people of color who buy into its myths, the same way patriarchy rewards sexist women (e.g. Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, etc).

Don’t assume racism is something that will die out with older generations. Young people are plenty racist. Racism is taught, so if Baby Boomers and Gen X are racist, their children will be too. There’s also no rule that says just because you have one black friend you can’t be racist, or because you have gay friends you can’t be homophobic. It doesn’t work that way.

If you know people of color, remember it’s not their job to educate you about all of this. It’s your job to learn and do your own research. People of color have had to learn how to live in a white society to survive. White people’s lives don’t depend on knowing the ins and outs of black culture and history, so we are ignorant. The good news is, there are plenty of resources available. Go to your library. Use your friend Google. Make sure  to study and read authors and researchers who are people of color.

When the economy crashes–because Trump has plainly stated that’s his goal–remember it was white people who voted him into office and white people who implemented his policies. He will try to blame everyone else for what happens. Nothing is ever his fault. Remember. It’s not the fault of immigrants. It’s not the fault of people of color. It’s completely Trump and the people who voted for him.

 

 

 

Supporting the president doesn’t mean agreeing with everything he does

I’ve talked about this before (“Why I volunteer for the president despite disagreeing with him”) but it bears repeating after a couple of incidents this week. First, President Obama said of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, “She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country.” Obama and Harris are friends, but it was inappropriate to comment on her appearance in a professional setting. Obama apologized Thursday, and that should be the end of it.

Second, and a much bigger deal, a federal judge ruled Friday that emergency contraception must be available without a prescription to people of all ages. Right now, a prescription is required for ages 16 and younger. However, as the judge made quite clear in his ruling, and as has been obvious for a while, that requirement has no basis in medical fact. In 2011, the FDA recommended that EC be available to all regardless of age, and in an unprecedented move, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled it.

I have never been so angry with the administration as I was that day. It was a political decision that was straight out of the Bush administration’s MO. I had voted for Obama because he had promised to make decisions based on science, and he broke that promise. Emergency contraception is safer than aspirin. Just because some people may be uncomfortable with a 13-year-old taking EC doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be able to.

I was hopeful that after the judge ruled, the Obama administration would accept the decision. However, it doesn’t sound promising; press secretary Jay Carney said, “We do not have enough evidence to show that all those who could use this medicine, Plan B, can understand the label and use the product appropriately. It could be dangerous if misused.”

No. It really couldn’t. I’m disappointed that at first blush, the administration is doubling down.

HOWEVER.

Obama has still done far and away more good for women than harm. The first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He rescinded the global gag rule. He appointed Hillary Clinton secretary of state and two women to the Supreme Court. He passed the Affordable Care Act and mandated copay-free birth control. He supports marriage equality. He repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He has refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. When the DREAM Act couldn’t get through Congress, he issued an executive order making it easier for undocumented young people to stay in the country.

The list could go on. No, obviously Obama isn’t perfect. He can do and say sexist things — like most of us. Fortunately, when that’s pointed out to him, he’s willing to apologize and learn.

I hold out hope that like his stance on marriage equality, Obama will “evolve” to understand young people’s sexuality isn’t scary and they should have every tool available to be safe and healthy.

Causes that could use a helping hand

Jane Doe, the survivor of the Steubenville rape, has been on my mind since the verdict Sunday gave her as much justice as is possible. Three major media outlets have released her name and two girls were arrested for threatening Jane. I can’t begin to understand what that’s like, but it’s probably not much of a stretch to say her life is a nightmare right now. So many people failed her in so many ways, but there’s something we can do to show her she’s not alone. She and her family have asked that any donations people want to make for her legal expenses go instead to a local shelter for abused women and children. You can give as little as $1 to Madden House and/or leave a message for Jane to let her know you support her. That’s the very least we can do to restore a little of her faith in humanity and make up for the myriad ways we as a culture let her down.

Second, fundraising for the fourth annual National Abortion Access Bowl-A-Thon is in full swing. So far $152,559 has been raised to make the promise of Roe a reality. Although abortion is legal, in the past few years dozens of provisions all across the country have been enacted to make it inaccessible. These restrictions, including waiting periods, unnecessary ultrasounds, arbitrary clinic regulations and outright bans, disproportionately affect poor women and women of color. Abortion funds exist to help people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the procedures. I’ve donated the past two years, and the hardest part is picking which of these kick-ass teams to support. If you’re concerned about the erosion of reproductive rights, donating to an abortion fund is the best way to directly assist those who most need it.

Lastly, and certainly least importantly, one of my favorite TV shows, “Veronica Mars,” is being made into a movie several years after going off the air. The catch was that the movie had to be fan-funded because Warner Brothers, which owns the rights, didn’t want to shell out money for something it wasn’t convinced would be profitable. The original goal was $2 million, which was raised in less than a day. It doesn’t need more money to come to fruition, but there are rewards for pledges that fans might consider worthwhile. And if this is the first you’re hearing of the show, do yourself a favor by watching the first two seasons here. The movie will likely make more sense if you’ve seen all three seasons, though, so either keep an eye out for the third online (I imagine it will show up somewhere with the renewed interest) or look in your library.

Why I volunteer for the president despite disagreeing with him

The reason why I support the president despite sometimes disagreeing with him should be obvious. There’s not a single person in my life I agree with 100 percent of the time. If you respond you do have someone like that in your life, please go grow a spine.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several areas where I disagree with the president: he doesn’t support same-sex marriage; he hasn’t closed Guantanamo Bay; he signed an executive order when the health care law was passed banning federal funding for abortion; his support of the EPA has been tepid; more undocumented workers have been deported under him than any other president (not something to be proud of); and he and his defense secretary are opposed to any cuts in defense spending despite the fact that makes up the majority of our budget.

However, his list of accomplishments is vast: he has appointed more women and minorities to positions of power than any other president, including two women to the Supreme Court; passed the most sweeping health care reform in generations; killed Osama bin Laden; passed a stimulus bill that prevented a depression; saved the auto industry; ended don’t ask, don’t tell; stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act; made a video for the It Gets Better project; appointed former rival Hillary Clinton to secretary of state, where she’s had wild success and approval; improved the standing of the United States around the world; halted massive job loss and created new jobs; proposed the American Jobs Act to fix our aging infrastructure and project public sector jobs; and ended the global gag rule that prohibited U.S. aid to foreign family planning groups that even mentioned abortion to their clients.

Yet liberals who supported Obama in the 2008 election seem disillusioned this time around. Most of the people I talk with are planning to vote for the president again, but they’re not jumping in to volunteer for the campaign.

They’re disappointed for what boils down to two reasons: They thought Obama was more progressive than he really is, and they blame him because Washington is gridlocked.

First of all, I can’t think of a single issue where Obama has ever pledged a truly liberal stance, despite screaming from the right wing about how he’s a Marxist/communist/socialist. But because the United States got dragged so far to the right under George W. Bush, and even under Clinton, Obama looked like he was more progressive than he really is. He’s a centrist, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a far sight better than what we had from 2000-2008.

Second, in our government, it takes three groups to get anything done: the Senate, the House and the White House. After the 2010 midterms, the Republicans took control of the House, and although the Democrats still have the Senate, they don’t have enough votes to pass bills without Republican support. And even if they did, they’d still run up against the wall of opposition in the House, where leaders are determined to get nothing done. They want the economy to do badly because they want Obama out of the White House. There’s only so much Obama can do without the approval of Congress. And he has bent over backward to compromise with Republicans and include them in discussions to move the country forward. They refuse.

I’m disappointed that more people who supported Obama in 2008 don’t understand the above points. Over the weekend I had a union organizer tell me that based on what he’s hearing, if there were a Democratic primary challenge, Obama would be in trouble. I wanted to beat my head against a wall. Obama is the smartest, most serious, most reasonable president we’ve had in a decade. And one of his best characteristics is that he’s open to criticism, feedback and new ideas.

I wasn’t surprised to read about friction in the early stages of his administration over the role of women in the West Wing. According to the Washington Post, female staffers felt shut out of discussions and disregarded to the point where it could qualify as a hostile workplace. Obama’s reaction? He finally sat down with the women to hear them out.

“Those tensions prompted Obama, urged on by senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, to elevate more women into senior White House positions, recognize them more during staff meetings and increase the female presence in the upper ranks of the reelection campaign. … The complaints seemed to subside over the last year, as officials have made a greater effort to promote women and the tight-knit inner circle has shifted to bring new advisers into the building.”

That, to me, is the work of a good leader. No, he’s not perfect. No one is. But despite the areas where I disagree with him, I truly believe he is a good man. I truly believe he has the best interest of all Americans at heart. That is why I have put so much time and effort into re-electing him. It’s why you should consider doing the same.

An open letter to John Boehner: I am the American people

This post is from a reader who is fed up with the political gridlock in Washington. She asked to remain anonymous.

Mr. Boehner,

You have often been quoted saying, “The American people have spoken” or “The American people have sent a message.” I don’t know those who have allegedly spoken, but “they” are not me.

Mr. Boehner, I am the American people.

I have been out of full-time work for three years. I am employed part-time and cannot find additional part-time employment. I wait my turn at the public library to conduct my job search. I have had only three interviews during the past three years.

I am single, over 50, and do not have health insurance. I was suddenly hospitalized, through the emergency room, shortly after losing my full-time job. I have accepted unemployment and housing assistance. I exhausted unemployment and COBRA subsidies benefits months ago. I don’t remember when I last saw a dentist.

I’ve stopped wearing contacts; upkeep costs too much. I need new glasses.

I cannot pay rent; I do not quality for any sort of assistance. I cannot pay ComEd, Nicor, or other bills. I cannot pay federal or state income tax. I do not overspend, unless medical bills are considered overspending. I have no retirement savings, I own no property.

Mr. Boehner, I am the American people.

I do not have cable, a working computer, or access to the Internet. I do not eat steak, rent videos, or dine out. I do not smoke or drink. I do not drive unless necessary, usually only to my part-time job. I do not have my hair cut. I do not have a text plan on my cell phone. I pay for a basic phone plan, in case, just in case, a potential employer calls.

I am college educated and have completed some post-graduate coursework.

I am no idiot.

Mr. Boehner, I am the American people.

I have pets, one of which was thrown away by someone else. They will eat before I do. I have participated in true grassroots action on behalf of school children and abused women. I have volunteered at free clinics for children and for the homeless. I have never donated to a political campaign. I have worked for years at polling places. I have no lobbyist.

Some of my neighbors are elderly. Some are dependent upon disability income. I worked on contingency planning with others to move food, children and animals if our electricity fails due to storm damage or delivery system overload. We sadly acknowledged that other Americans will die this summer due to capacity and service interruptions.

I have borrowed money from friends and family. I am not eligible for food stamps. I have no children, I am not eligible for family “aid.” I am not old enough for Social Security, which you apparently are planning to take away anyway. God has not “provided” — please tell your caucus.

I did not plan to live my life this way. I did not get up this morning and decide to “take advantage” of the government. I have done everything “right.” I am not a so-called “usurper.” I am tired. I do have a bit of pride left. Not much. But a little.

Mr. Boehner, I am the American people.

Mr. Boehner, please do not speak for the American people unless you know them. Again, Mr. Boehner —

I am the American people.

“Hot Coffee’s” punchline is on us

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

A woman burns herself after spilling a cup of coffee. She decides to sue McDonald’s for not letting her know that a typically hot beverage was, in fact, hot. She’s awarded millions of dollars and is held up as an example of the frivolous lawsuits invading America.

What about this one?

Stella Liebeck, 79, a passenger in a parked car, suffers third-degree burns from a hot liquid poured in her lap. Her recovery is uncertain, but after several surgeries and skin grafts, she pulls through. She asks the company responsible for the accident to pay her medical bills.

Do those sound like two totally different stories to you? They’re actually one and the same. That’s what happens when the right-wing spin machine gets its hands on your story. Stella Liebeck is the woman who became the butt of every late-night comedian’s joke for an accident that could have taken her life. What’s often left out of her account is the fact that the coffee was 180 degrees Fahrenheit; McDonald’s had had more than 700 complaints about the too-high temperature; and Liebeck sought only enough money to pay her medical bills — about $20,000.

McDonald’s offered $800.

Yes, a jury later awarded Liebeck $2.8 million in damages, but the case was finally settled out of court on undisclosed terms. I stumbled across a picture of Liebeck’s injuries while researching this post, and the damage was horrific. In my opinion, she deserved whatever recompense she eventually received.

I actually did know, but learned only within the last couple of years, that Liebeck’s story has more merit than it’s typically given in pop culture. I was reminded about it again after I saw a bit about a new documentary on the Daily Dish.

As “Hot Coffee,” the HBO documentary by Susan Saladoff, explains, it’s thanks to conservatives the case came to be representative of the need for tort reform. They believe in placing caps on damages injured people can seek from companies or doctors who have done the public harm. As Scott Lemieux writes in “Burned by the Courts”:

The film describes the ways in which the tort reform movement is connected to a broader movement to lessen the political and legal accountability of corporations. Corporations in many cases have used alleged problems with the legal system to justify requiring customers and employees to submit to binding arbitration rather than civil court. When people do have access to the courts, they find that many state judiciaries — where judges are elected and eligible to receive campaign donations — are heavily tilted towards business interests.

Another case that “Hot Coffee” highlights is that of Jamie Leigh Jones, who sought justice from employer Halliburton/KBR after she was gang-raped by co-workers while living in Baghdad. The company had a policy that employees couldn’t bring charges against it but were instead subject to binding arbitration. When Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., submitted an amendment to a defense bill stating the U.S. wouldn’t do business with contractors that denied employees their day in court, 30 Republicans voted against it. Thirty Republicans thought women like Jones should have no recourse if they were sexually assaulted on the job. (Franken won my admiration for his activism and support of Jones on this case.)

Conservatives rail against big government yet have no problem with big business, which I’d argue is the more dangerous institution. If we didn’t have regulations, laws and negligence lawsuits, what would keep corporations in line? What would make them do the right thing rather than the cheap thing? Nothing. Only the threat of bad PR or a tumbling share price really scares boards of directors.

There has to be some check on their power. Big business will never do the right thing because it’s right (see BP’s reluctance to pay damages to industries affected by last year’s massive oil spill). Even in a time of record profits, the company still resisted helping those whose livelihoods and environment were destroyed by BP’s carelessness.

The bottom line is that tort reform is yet another way conservatives look out for the interests of big business rather than the interests of ordinary Americans. Yes, there are some ridiculous lawsuits being filed today, but there are also many that have merit and deserve to be heard in court. So the next time you hear someone laughing about a frivolous lawsuit, before you join in the joke, do some research to determine the facts.