The President’s administration

Shiny objects, distractions and dangers

Stuart Zanville
2017 April

This column is about the difference between distraction and danger.

As I write, we are a little more than a month into the administration of the 45th President of the United States. So far, this presidency has been filled with a daily stream of noise but not a lot of substance; and it’s hard to separate the noise from the signals. Every day there have been distractions from the real agenda of the president and his closest advisors.

Shiny objects

In politics, these distractions are known as “shiny objects.” Mark Leibovich wrote in the New York Times magazine that shiny objects “are figurative devices that rely on principles of distraction, outrage and misdirection.” In politics, a shiny object is the “preoccupation of the moment.”

In its first 30 days, the current administration had about 43,000 minutes in office and seemingly an equal number of preoccupations of the moment. Those distractions have ranged from bashing the press and the courts to untrue allegations of terror activities in Sweden and Bowling Green, Kentucky.

On February 23, Gail Collins wrote in the New York Times that “It’s easy to be distracted by all the strange/contradictory/awful things the president says. Maybe he keeps talking crazy to divert attention from the fact that he doesn’t have anything else to report. In Washington, outside of the ongoing disaster that is immigration policy, actual changes have been sparse.”

It’s true that until now the Republican- controlled House and Senate haven’t been doing much. Unfortunately, that is about to change. When that happens instead of distractions there will be laws that will be dangerous for consumers and the trial lawyers who protect them.

On February 21, David Lazarus wrote in his column in the L.A. Times that “There’s a lot of important stuff going down that our leaders need to deal with: immigration, climate change, Russians running amok. So, what are Republican lawmakers doing? They’re busy with legislation aimed at stripping Americans of consumer protections. Republicans are serving notice that their priority is making businesses happy at the expense of consumers who, if their bills become law, once again will be largely on their own in dealing with questionable or unfair corporate practices.”

Samantha Bee, host of the TBS show Full Frontal said on her February 15 broadcast that Republicans in Congress are “going hog wild passing new laws to harm the public’s health, safety and economic security.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said, “Republican lawmakers have declared war on consumer protection.”

Two examples of this include the GOP-controlled Congress passing a regulation to allow coal companies to dump debris and waste into nearby streams and the House and Senate repealing a background check for gun purchasers that screened out people who receive Social Security benefits because of mental problems that make it impossible for them to work.

At least six Congressional bills take aim at eliminating various aspects of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and the Consumer Protection Bureau that Dodd-Frank created.

In a February 23 editorial, the New York Times said that “Congress was using a little-used statute known as the Congressional Review Act to strike down environmental rules that are vulnerable to reversal because they were enacted in the waning months of the Obama administration.”

Last month the House Judiciary Committee voted out of committee two bills that would demolish the legal rights of consumers.

Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice & Democracy reports that “one bill would present extreme hardship to asbestos victims and their families, violating their privacy and delaying or denying legitimate claims so that dying victims are never compensated.”

Doroshow says a second bill would “obliterate class actions in America.” More than 70 consumer, labor, legal and environmental groups already oppose the bill that they say “would annihilate class-action lawsuits, which are among the most important tools to enable harmed, cheated and violated individuals and small businesses to hold large corporations and institutions accountable.”

With a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, it’s obvious that we now face unprecedented dangers from legislators who put corporate interests first. So, what can you do to protect consumers?

There is no doubt that legislators respond when they hear from their constituents. Make sure that you contact your legislator and those from the Republican Party to voice your concern about bills that threaten to take away consumer protections. If possible, attend a town hall and make your voice heard in person.

If you are not already a member, you should join and support the American Association for Justice (AAJ). AAJ is the national association that represents the trial bar in Washington D.C.

Linda Lipsen, AAJ’s CEO and chief lobbyist says “it is important to note that there are many pro-civil-justice lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who will continue to stand up to preserve the fundamental right to trial by jury and protect the rights of your clients. AAJ works to provide you with the information you need to successfully represent your clients and to ensure that Congress does not pass laws that limit the responsibility of corporations that harm people.”

To learn more about AAJ go to their website at www.justice.org.

You probably noticed that throughout this column the name of the President has not been mentioned. I could have, but that would have just been a distraction.

Stuart Zanville Stuart Zanville

Stuart Zanville is the Executive Director of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA). Contact him at (213) 487-1212 or by e-mail: stuart@caala.org.

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