Interesting Column by The Nation’s Rick Perlstein on Fine Print Contracts

Here.  And here's the beginning:

Imagine you’ve clicked on your computer screen to accept a contract to purchase a good or service—a contract, you only realize later, that’s straight out of Kafka. The widget you’ve bought turns out to be a nightmare. You take to to complain about your experience—but lo, according to the contract you have given up your free speech rights to criticize the product. Let’s also say, in a fit of responsibility, (a bit fantastic, I know) you happened to have printed out this contract before you “signed” it, though you certainly hadn’t read through the thing, which is written, literally, on a “twenty-seventh grade” reading level. Well, you read it now (perhaps with the help of a friend who’s completed the twenty-seventh grade). And you see that there was nothing in the contract limiting your right to free speech at the moment you signed it. That part was added later. Your friend with the twenty-seventh-grade education points to the clause in the contract in which you’ve granted this vendor-from-hell the right to modify the terms of the contract, unilaterally, at any time into the vast limitless future.

Others, you realize, must have had the same problem with this lemon of a product. You begin canvassing the possibility of a class action suit. But you guessed it: the contract you agreed to waived your right to class action as well.

You study this gorgon of a text to figure out what other monstrosities lie within—and discover this: you’ve waived away your right to the privacy of certain information, too. Shocked, you resolve: never again. You realize that when you buy a product or service, you’re also buying the contract that goes with it. So you’ll comparison shop. You think about how, when you rent a car, you have to sign and initial all that contract language you have no time to read with eight people behind you in line at the airport. So you call all the big rental car companies to get copies of their standard boilerplate contracts to read at your leisure—but not one would e-mail you the contract. You’re told it just isn’t done.

0 thoughts on “Interesting Column by The Nation’s Rick Perlstein on Fine Print Contracts

  1. Peter G Cohen says:

    By Peter G Cohen
    Dear Friends of Peace, Environment and Democracy,
    When I was a little boy my mother and I went to visit her parents in Palm Beach. It was the middle of the depression. Developments in the making had been abandoned after the crash of 1929. We came across one such development, the foundations had been poured, but grass was growing in the streets. And there, right in front of us, was a snake eating a small rabbit. Snake’s jaws open wide, they inch forward a little at a time, until the larger animal has been swallowed. I don’t remember anything else about that visit, but that nauseating scene of the abandoned development with the snake eating the rabbit are engraved in my memory.
    We have something similar today. A relatively small group of corporate executives and very rich individuals are devouring our nation, a little bit at a time. Over the last three decades they are gradually swallowing both major parties, the supreme court and the presidency. They operate through a wide variety of well-funded think tanks and lobbying groups. While some of their money was wasted on failed candidates in the last election, they are making steady progress in taking over many of our government agencies and rendering them useless. They have managed to impose drastic cutbacks on the government, which make it appear even less effective. Tax loopholes and foreign headquarters reduce their tax liabilities, and increase their opportunity to accumulate more money and influence. Our “democracy” no longer represents the will or the needs of the people. It is “of, by, and for” big money.
    One of the most tragic examples of this influence is the failure of our government to do anything substantial to reduce our output of the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change. Even while people were dying during the terrible storm Sandy, television ads were extolling the virtues of fossil fuels. The fossil fuel organizations have spent millions to discredit the overwhelming consensus of scientists on the nature and source of climate change. As a result, our government has done very little to reduce the discharge of greenhouse gasses, or to prepare our nation to resist the death and destruction of the increasingly violent weather predicted for the rest of the century.
    No matter how we sacrifice, we cannot equal the contributions of the big money oligarchs. We cannot continue to write letters and fill petitions to representatives already indentured to the snake of oligarchy. We’ve tried that and it doesn’t work; our needs are ignored.
    There is only one non-violent way to regain our democracy. We must develop civic organizations of such size and strength that they cannot be devoured. Whether it is a coalition of existing local organizations, or one of the progressive national organizations with the vision to encourage local organizing, or some other means better suited to a particular community, doesn’t matter. What matters is that it causes us to reach out to our neighbors, to identify ourselves, our cars and our homes as the pro-democracy movement, and to leave our easy chairs and mind-numbing television for regular meetings, demonstrations, campaigns and other activities.
    We must relearn that democracy means discussion, response, cooperation and discipline. It also means outreach, community and acceptance of minorities. It must mean sharing the best information available on the internet and keeping it free. It can also be fun with pot luck meals, dances, movies and activities that are more fun than drowsing through boring, money-filtered television. In other words, we need the kind of participation that make campaigns work, but carried out on a year-round basis so that when the next campaign or issue comes up we are active and united in our efforts to defeat the oligarchy and its servants.
    All of this sounds like a lot of effort. It is! We either do it, or we accept the fact that our children and grandchildren will live in a corporation-dominated society, serving the wealthy as serfs or indentured servants.
    We have fought unnecessary wars in distant lands under the guise of defending and supporting democracy. Local organizing does not require that people give up their limbs or lives. It does require the active participation of us all. The choice is clear; the end is not.
    Peter G Cohen, is a veteran of W.W.II, an artist, writer and grandfather. He has been a peace candidate for the Congress, a political organizer, and peace activist. He now lives in Santa Barbara, where he can be reached at

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