With all of the terrible news going on - the war, the suspension of basic rights, the advance of global warming - it is easy to ignore other important issues. However, it is a mistake to ignore these other issues.
One issue that the Democrats should advance is consumer advocacy. Elliot Spitzer demonstrated that protecting consumers can be both the right thing and politically advantageous. However, the rest of the Democratic party has forgotten their obligation to protect American citizens. This is especially important for lower and middle income Americans, who do not have the resources to fight the injustices.
I suggest that the Democrats start easy, and build up to the larger injustices. One large hole in our laws is the lack of any protection against large phone bills when a customer's phone is stolen. If your credit card is stolen, the law limits your liability to $50. If you phone is stolen, you can be responsible for all of the expensive international calls made during the time it takes you to find your phone. Why not limit this liability?
Such a change would be both good for consumers and also economically efficient, as the cell phone companies would then implement stronger anti-fraud programs which consumers themselves cannot implement. At a minimum, consumers should only pay the costs that the cell phone companies incur, not the outrageous prices they charge. If the Democrats passed a bill supporting these consumer rights, I cannot imagine that the Republicans would fight it. If Republicans joined the Democrats, Americans get more protection. If Republicans fight the proposal, how much better of an illustration could we get that the Republicans do not care about the average American.
Of course, there are other consumer advocacy issues that the Democrats will need to address, but the political logic holds here, too.
We need to fix the damage done by the Republicans from the new Bankruptcy bill they passed a few years ago. Credit agencies make people's lives hell when they report incorrect information, but there is almost no accountability for these firms. Finally, the ability (let alone the will) for the government to protect its citizens from unsafe products is woefully inadequate. In the past, Republicans have shown a willingness to fight these initiatives. But I say that it pays to fight for the right thing - building up polical pressure to correct the imbalance towards protecting companies over people. Over time, the message will get through, and in the short run, pressing for correct policies demonstrates to the American public which party is on the right side - and which is on the wrong side - of the issues that matter to them.
This story discusses the fact that phone companies could do more to prevent fraud but choose not to:
This story discusses a recent case where a woman was charged $20,000 for calls from her cell phone.
This article notes that phone companies often work with customer's whose phones are stolen, but discusses other problems with the phone companies' insurance plans: