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Polling Complex Questions in America

In a story about Terri Shiavo case, James Joyner touches upon an interesting point:

While we can quibble with the wording of the questions, the polling seems to indicate an overwhelming consensus that the courts have done the right thing and that the GOP leadership was wrong to intervene in a matter for state courts.

The "quibble with the wording of the questions" part is a reference to a push poll done by ABC. But that's not my point.

I think there is an inverse correlation between the complexity of an issue and how well it polls in America.

There is probably no better example than the "Contract With America" era.

The Contract consisted of 10 things the Republicans promised to do if they were given control of Congress. This 10 ideas were wildly popular with the public. They were things like making Congress obey the laws it passed for the rest of us and other common sense ideas. (I listed all 10 in the extended area)

But in the age before the blogosphere could slap the media for poor reporting, the media muddied the waters after the Republicans were given control of Congress. They targeted "The Contract" as a big Republican plan to take over the world while simultaneously not reporting (or misreporting) what was in it. As a result a weird paradox grew in the polling numbers.

"The Contract" had horrible polling numbers. About 25% of the people in the country supported it. BUT if people were polled on each point in the contract, lowest polling item on the list polled in the 80% range. The points of the contract each enjoyed wide support. But the bundle did not.

Also buried in the poll findings back then (before the blogosphere) was that the MORE people knew about the contract, the more they supported it. The people who admitted they did not know a single item in the contract were against it 9 to 1. So the ignorant skewed the poll dramatically.

Fast Forward to today. Private accounts for Social Security make sense. When people are asked if the money they put into Social Security should be held in a separate account with their name on it, they agree by a wide margin. But asked if they want the President's Social Security reform which includes private accounts and they often say no. -- Now let me make a point-- I refuse to believe the American public is so knowledgeable about the present plan that they are sophisticated enough to agree with privatization in principal but disagree with this implementation. The inverse is true... They like the whole privatization thing but they don't trust "them folks in Washington" not to screw up the present system. Everyone has heard the line about the devil we do know.

Which brings be to the Terri Shiavo case. It practically defines a complex story. Legal, moral, medical... all the big complexities in life all rolled into one case. People don't want Terri Shiavo to starve to death. People don't care what politicians gets involved.... The truth is, people don't want to think about it. They want it off the front page - post haste.

Just look at the response in the blogosphere. Look at the number of bloggers (myself included) who ignored the case for a long time... Most of us just didn't want to think about it. I would bet that less than 30% of the people in the country know that the whole case was decided (mostly) by a single judge. They don't know the complexities of the case, they just want it to go away.

This is hard for us to comprehend because as my buddy Spoons points out, we (bloggers and our readers) have a near irrational obsession with news and politics. But never forget one important thing when you see all these polls about complex issues of the day...

At any given moment, only about 50% of the American public can even name the current Vice President... but the media will give you his approval numbers like they actually mean something.


Broad points of the Contract With America

On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:

FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.


Thereafter, within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, we shall bring to the House Floor the following bills, each to be given full and open debate, each to be given a clear and fair vote and each to be immediately available this day for public inspection and scrutiny.

1. THE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out- of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses. (Bill Text) (Description)

2. THE TAKING BACK OUR STREETS ACT: An anti-crime package including stronger truth-in- sentencing, "good faith" exclusionary rule exemptions, effective death penalty provisions, and cuts in social spending from this summer's "crime" bill to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools. (Bill Text) (Description)

3. THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility. (Bill Text) (Description)

4. THE FAMILY REINFORCEMENT ACT: Child support enforcement, tax incentives for adoption, strengthening rights of parents in their children's education, stronger child pornography laws, and an elderly dependent care tax credit to reinforce the central role of families in American society. (Bill Text) (Description)

5. THE AMERICAN DREAM RESTORATION ACT: A S500 per child tax credit, begin repeal of the marriage tax penalty, and creation of American Dream Savings Accounts to provide middle class tax relief. (Bill Text) (Description)

6. THE NATIONAL SECURITY RESTORATION ACT: No U.S. troops under U.N. command and restoration of the essential parts of our national security funding to strengthen our national defense and maintain our credibility around the world. (Bill Text) (Description)

7. THE SENIOR CITIZENS FAIRNESS ACT: Raise the Social Security earnings limit which currently forces seniors out of the work force, repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance to let Older Americans keep more of what they have earned over the years. (Bill Text) (Description)

8. THE JOB CREATION AND WAGE ENHANCEMENT ACT: Small business incentives, capital gains cut and indexation, neutral cost recovery, risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis, strengthening the Regulatory Flexibility Act and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs and raise worker wages. (Bill Text) (Description)

9. THE COMMON SENSE LEGAL REFORM ACT: "Loser pays" laws, reasonable limits on punitive damages and reform of product liability laws to stem the endless tide of litigation. (Bill Text) (Description)

10. THE CITIZEN LEGISLATURE ACT: A first-ever vote on term limits to replace career politicians with citizen legislators. (Description)


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Comments (33)

Stop apologizing, Paul. Am... (Below threshold)
Neal:

Stop apologizing, Paul. Americans have become, by and large, very, very stupid people (and it's getting worse). It isn't complex at all. Just disturbing. Just how dumb Americans have become is the real story. Like pigs to slaughter.

Where did I apologize for w... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Where did I apologize for what?

Sometimes I wonder if you people read what I write.

Except for the fact the ABC... (Below threshold)
littleboy:

Except for the fact the ABC poll was not a "push poll" except to those whose idea of arguementation is the creation of strawmen.

From the National Council on Public Polls:
" A "Push Poll" is a telemarketing technique in which telephone calls are used to canvass vast numbers of potential voters, feeding them false and damaging "information" about a candidate under the guise of taking a poll to see how this "information" effects voter preferences."

And from CMOR:
" Political telemarketing or so-called "push polling" is a telemarketing technique conducted under the guise of a legitimate poll."

You can equivocate till the cows come home. That will not change the fact that the ABC poll was not a push poll.

I was polled over the phone... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

I was polled over the phone back in the 80's. The topic was abortion and the questions seemed vague and misleading at the time. When the results were released the questions were different but in subtle ways, mainly in how punctation was used and certian items were stressed. What it came down to was if a person was pro-abortion for any reason, like cases of rape, incest, or mother's health was at risk they were pro-abortion on demand. Another thing about the poll, I was in a hotel room in Denver, the only way the pollster could reach me was through the front desk, and there just happened to be a week-long conference of OB/GYNs going on with most of them in the hotel I was in. The results were printed the next week in the Denver Post but none of those little details were included.

When people are asked if... (Below threshold)
Brian:

When people are asked if the money they put into Social Security should be held in a separate account with their name on it, they agree by a wide margin. But asked if they want the President's Social Security reform which includes private accounts and they often say no.

That's a pretty poor example. You complain about misrepresenting the facts in so-called "push polls", and yet your own example is horribly biased. I understand that you're not actually doing your own poll, but you chose the above as an example to illustrate your point.

You say that people are in favor of point A, but then are against a plan that includes A. Your conclusion ignores the fact that the plan also includes points B, C, and D.

People may well be in favor of Social Security money "held in a separate account with my name on it", but that's not at all what Bush is proposing. You ignore the other points of the plan, such as that the money in the private account would be managed outside of the core Social Security funds, you must manage the money yourself, you can lose your money and tough luck if you do, savings becomes as volatile as the stock market, it involves other benefits cuts, etc.

So it's no wonder that when you switch the question to whether they support "the President's reform", people say no. That's asking an entirely different question. Whether you agree that Bush's plan contains the points that I mentioned is irrelevant. The fact that the plan has other points that are not represented in your sample question is.

I would bet that less than 30% of the people in the country know that the whole case was decided (mostly) by a single judge.

And when you inform them of that, would you also inform them that that's the way the system works for everybody, all the time?

Which again points to the poor framing of your question. "Do you think this case should be decided by a single judge?" I'd guess most people would say no, assuming they have the luxury of arbitrarily choosing how many judges get to review a case. Which they don't.

How about asking "if a judge examines the evidence and rules against someone, do you think they should be able to bypass the appeals process and take the evidence to an arbitrary number of judges until they find one who sides with them, or should they be bound by the first judge's decision?" I wonder what the answer would be then.

Okay, I think this is going... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Okay, I think this is going to be my first and last statement on the Shiavo case...

At this point, no matter how it winds up being decided, nothing good is going to come of this case. It's way too late. Even with the best care available, at this late date the chances of Terri recovering anything even vaguely resembling normal function are vanishingly small. (And by "late date", I don't mean the last two weeks; I mean everything that has happened on the case since about 1993.)

The best we can hope for is to take some lessons learned out of this and hope that they influence future law and medical practice in cases like this. Here is my take on what these lessons are:

1. In cases of undetermined brain injury like this, the absolute first priority is to get treatment for the patient, try to get the brain stabilized, and get some therapy going damn well ASAP. The law should ensure that no one, absolutely no one, may stand in the way of this. Medical practitioners must be held harmless for taking first-response action in the case of a brain injury, regardless of living wills, wishes of the family, or anything else. If the person with the injury is not stabilized immediately, then all else becomes moot, as has pretty much happened in the Shiavo case.

2. The Florida courts should never have set up such a blatant conflict-of-interest situation in regard to Terri's care. It is inarguable that the terms of the trust created a perverse incentive for Michael Shiavo to see Terri die. And, given that Terri's wishes were and still are not definitely known, the court that set up the trust for her care should have at the least appointed a supervisor of the trust, answerable to the court. And, as soon as it became apparent that Michael had reasons to act against Terri's best interests (and I claim that became self-evident when Michael took up with another woman and had children by her), the court should have immediately taken control of the trust away from Michael and appointed a guardian. In no case should the court ever have created a financial incentive for Michael to withhold treatment.

3. There are accusations out there that the case goes beyond mere neglect, that at least one time Michael actively tried to kill Terri by injecting her with an overdose of insulin (which could have added to her brain injuries). Although I'm not sure how credible the accusations are, I haven't seen any evidence that any law enforcement agency ever lifted a finger to investigate. "She's a vegatable anyway" is not an excuse for law enforcement failing to do its duty.

4. The diagnosis of "persistent vegatative state" is currently not a valid medical diagnosis, because there are no established criteria for making such a diagnosis. The PVS diagnosis seems to be based solely on any doctor's unsupported opinion. That will not do. Objective standards and required tests must be established. This is not a matter where "reasonable people can disagree"; the moral and legal stakes are too high. Reasonable people must agree, or the diagnosis is not valid. (Note that I'm not talking here about brain death. The medical profession pretty much agrees now that recovery is impossible in cases where the patient has a totally flatline EEG; that is, no brain activity at all. The PVS diagnosis does not imply brain death; Terri Shiavo still has some brain activity.)

5. In any case where the legal and moral powers that be have determined that a terminally ill patient be allowed to die, they should never be allowed to assume that any patient that has brain activity remaining "won't feel a thing". We are seeing some research that some unresponsive patients assumed to be unconscious are in fact aware of their surroundings, but unable to communicate their awareness. When people who have terminal illnesses, but are still of sound mind, get close to death, society generally considers it humane that they be freed of pain and made as comfortable as possible, up to and including giving the patient discretion over the administration of normally-heavily-restricted painkilling drugs (e.g., morphine). Is Terri Schiavo filling the pangs of severe hunger and thirst now? We don't know for sure that she isn't. At the very least, why in God's name isn't she being sedated? As many people have pointed out, we wouldn't treat a terminally ill animal this way.

6. It's about time for the judiciary to get off of their collective asses in regard to "expert witness" testimony. About 95% of all of the expert witness material I've heard over the years has been complete, utter, steaming, stinking crap. There are no standards whatsoever for what constitutes an "expert" in any given area; poor jurors are left with the near-impossible task of wading through incomprehensible alphabet soups of accrediting organizations and standards, and more often than not they wind up just having to go by what they are told because they have no way of verifying any of the claims made by the "experts". (And I'm not picking on plaintiff or defendent witnesses in particular here; everone on both sides plays the game.) The judiciary has got to start taking charge of expert witnesses. Courts have the money to vet experts, find out who is qualified and who are considered the cranks in a given field, and start imposing some standards. Some witnesses make a fine living doing expert-witness testimony, and if one accepts the premise that civil tort costs constitute a general tax on the economy at some level, then us taxpayers should demand that the judiciary ensure that we are getting our money's worth.

As to whether or not Congress, the courts, etc., are all acting responsibly: I really don't have much of an opinion at this point. Most of the courts seem to be ruling on established precedent (and the aforementioned expert witness testimony). One can dispute how Congress got involved, but there's no arguing that the Constitution authorized the action. Furthermore, if one accepts that one of a representative's functions is to exert leadership, then you have to give Congress props for doing the one thing it could do to express its collective opinion in a way that was guaranteed to get the point across. And I'm a bit preturbed at some bloggers who think this is all much ado about nothing. Americans have (since WWII at least) been very cautious about any issue that even remotely resembles eugenics, which the Shiavo case does at a certain level, and they are quite right to be troubled so. That's why it's important. Someone can reasonably disagree with the contention that Terri should continue to be fed, and still be troubled by the underlying aspects. But to argue that the case doesn't deserve the attention that it got is to argue, in effect, that some governmental or quasi-governmental authority should be entrusted to decide who "deserves" to live. That, folks, is the diamond lane to Hitlerian/Stalinist hell.

I'm afraid that there is probably nothing that can be done, either legally or medically, for Terri at this point. I'm hoping that we will take all of the lessons learned and use them to ensure that such a situation never happens again, so that at least Terri Shiavo didn't die in vain.

On the premise that complic... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

On the premise that complicated issues do not poll well, I think you are 100% right. I remember the ABC poll almost 50% of those polled said they hadn't followed the Schiavo case, and I am sure that skewed the poll.

One thing I have noticed is that pretty much all of the posts I have seen, where somebody changed their mind after learning the facts, they changed it in favor of Micheal walking away and letting her parents take care of her. Granted that isn't anything close to a scientific poll, but it is something I have noticed.

As for social security, I think you are right that part of the problem with the plan is that while lots of people like the idea of partial privatization, they really don't trust congress to get it right, and they are afraid they will screw it up more. I think that is a legitimate concern, although I admit I am absolutely for partial privatization. I just don't think partial privatization is neccessarily going to fix the problem that needs fixing-ie the program becoming short of funds, and having to dip into the regular budget to cover the costs.

But honestly I also think medicare is probably in more of a mess, and they need to get that one fixed sooner. But that is a whole other discussion.

Once Paul just accepts that... (Below threshold)
Eric:

Once Paul just accepts that pollsters are the best evidence for the ooze=>people theory (obviously they are transitional states on the ooze=>people continuum) then the happier he'll be.

I agree with you, Paul.... (Below threshold)
arb:

I agree with you, Paul.

It is inarguable that th... (Below threshold)
Brian:

It is inarguable that the terms of the trust created a perverse incentive for Michael Shiavo to see Terri die.

The financial beneficiary of a dying person always has an "incentive" for that person to die. Should all people standing by their spouses' deathbeds be suspect now?

And, as soon as it became apparent that Michael had reasons to act against Terri's best interests (and I claim that became self-evident when Michael took up with another woman and had children by her), the court should have immediately taken control of the trust away from Michael and appointed a guardian.

What legal reasoning would you use? Would a man have to have children with another woman to lose his rights? How about if he just lives with her? What if they only had sex once? Where do you draw the line where a person loses spousal privilege?

Brian: I put up this though... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Brian: I put up this thought experiment on Just One Minute: if Terri were conscious and had some means of making her wishes known, but otherwise were bound in her current state, what would she be doing now? Don't you think she'd be suing for divorce? Would any family court allow Michael to keep control what amounts to Terri's health savings account under the present circumstances? As far as legal reasoning, the term "legally separated" has meaning in family courts in every state that I know of. Are you going to claim that Michael and Terri aren't legally separated?

Furthermore, how do you figure that a surviving spouse always benefits financially from their spouse's death?

It amazes me that, for a co... (Below threshold)

It amazes me that, for a country that is largely ignorant of the workings of its own government, that all of a sudden they have complex and in depth knowledge of the workings of state soverignty and federalism--and the media believes that they have formed educated opinions, or at least educated enough to answer a question with certainty. One has to wonder where the opinion is being formed. Maybe there's a reason people rely more and more on alternative sources for their news.

littleboy you are accuratel... (Below threshold)
Paul:

littleboy you are accurately named.

A push poll can sell an idea as well as a candidate you idiot.

To reveal my own reamining ... (Below threshold)
-S-:

To reveal my own reamining uninvolved as a blogger behavior where Terri Schiavo is concerned, at least for earlier times up until recently, I honestly never thought that an aspect of our society would ever arrive at such a horrible, wretched series of conclusions where Terri Schiavo is concerned, as has been arrived at culminating with today's decisions.

I assumed and had faith that Terri Schiavo and her family, those that love and care for her, would be named her guardian and that she'd continue to live out her life under their care; I never assumed or even thought that the ACLU would take up Terri Schiavo as their recent "right to die" case, and need to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Among the damage and darkness that this has accomplished is that it contributes to individual mistrust of our society overall, and that it is more difficult as time passes to continue to say, "I believe that people are basically good," to paraphrase Anne Frank.

Some are, some aren't, but listening to certain persons on news broadcasts about Terri Schiavo, I hear the lowest common denominator among ideals and insights self promoting, as does the lowest common denominator all too often.

And so, today especially, the challenge here is to focus on the good that can come from evil, to rememeber that for every request to fall, there is the hand to help us up. I'm trying to believe again that people are basically (still) good.

Another thing: I believe m... (Below threshold)
-S-:

Another thing: I believe me not getting more involved in this issue as a blogger, sooner (Terri Schiavo and her life), was a product of the last remaining association by me with liberalism. They've proven and proven conclusively this day to my view that they work toward the wrong goals and for all the worst reasons.

You are so right about the ... (Below threshold)
Jim:

You are so right about the public and about the media. One of the talking points being pushed by so-called legal analysts is that the executive branch has never ignored or overruled a court decision. Ann Coulter gives several instances when a President or governor did just that. Most recently President Clinton overruled a Florida court decision with regard to that Cuban kid Elian. The court ruled the kid should stay in the US with family members and the Clinton DoJ sent in a SWAT team, snatched up the kid and shipped him back to Cuba.

Paul, I guess you are corre... (Below threshold)
DaveD:

Paul, I guess you are correct regarding the ignorance of the American public. I believe it is only the minority of Americans whether of a conservative or liberal ilk that take the time to truly educate themselves on thedeatils of the issues of the day. But I think something else is at work also. Take the Social Security issue. No one can argue that the system will go broke and something needs to be done. The President makes a proposal. The liberal political wing jumps up and down shouting the sky is falling. His solution if implemented will result in wide-spread poverty in old age. And the main stream press is more than happy to accomodate the grandstanding. The Preseident on numerous (recorded) occasions has said he is open to other suggestions. The result is silence and the liberals get a free pass by not having to stick their neck out by offering a solution. Also, I think the confluent issues the Middle East war, Social Security, the Schiavo case cause an overload that the public turns a deaf ear to because in my mind the Presidential campaigning and election is over and they want a rest. I thnk that is not all of it but part of it. Americans are not politically savvy as a whole and the average American only makes themselves open to issues near election time - and frankly since they are out of practice most of the time, they do a poor job of educating themselves.
My comment on the Schiavo issue is that I suspect it will not go away after she dies. I think that there will be people in the health care field that have been associated with Teri Schiavo's care who will begin to talk because her death removes the threat of their losing their jobs. It is unfortunate but that is what I suspect will happen.

-S-: Somewhat in defense of... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

-S-: Somewhat in defense of people who haven't paid a lot of attention to the issue, I will admit that it's difficult when there is so much misinformation and low-quality reporting going on. If people want it "off the front page", as Paul says, I think that is a lot of the reason: sorting out the truth from the crap is difficult (at least for people who don't know how to navigate the blogosphere, which is still the majority of Americans), and if you are getting bombarded with conflicting info of unknown veracity, after a while it just makes your head hurt. And don't forget: the people who don't want public attention on this issue, and we all know who they are, know this and will churn out a lot of just plain crap in order to confuse the issue and get people disinterested. (Of course, there admittedly is a certain percentage of the public who does want it off the front page so there's more room for Jacko and Brittany and Brad Pitt and etc. But, by and large, these people just don't matter. Someone has to say it and it might as well be me. But I think this is a pretty small fraction of the population.)

I first started following the Shiavo case about a year ago, and the more I read about it, the more concerned I got about it. But I'll have to admit I never thought it would get to this point, at least not this soon. I'm kind of stunned at how quickly things have moved over the past two weeks.

President Clinton overru... (Below threshold)
Brian:

President Clinton overruled a Florida court decision with regard to that Cuban kid Elian.

Clinton's argument was that the Florida court had no jurisdiction over international policy issues. If Bush wants to argue that the Florida, federal, or Supreme courts have no jurisdiction over Terri Schiavo, that would be interesting.

"Clinton's argument was tha... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

"Clinton's argument was that the Florida court had no jurisdiction over international policy issues."

I don't think the issue was with the argument, but in the Clinton storming the boys home to take him by force, rather than take the issue to the courts himself to argue his case. If he had done this through the courts, rather than with guns ablazing you would have a better defense.

But the facts are that Clinton did indeed ignore and dismiss the decision of a court.

if Terri were conscious ... (Below threshold)
Brian:

if Terri were conscious and had some means of making her wishes known, but otherwise were bound in her current state, what would she be doing now? Don't you think she'd be suing for divorce?

I don't know. Perhaps she would want Michael to dump his girlfriend and come back to her. But why would you want to make a decision based on an unknown scenario? Isn't that what the anti-Michael crowd is accusing Greer of doing?

Would any family court allow Michael to keep control what amounts to Terri's health savings account under the present circumstances?

We don't have to speculate whether they "would". They have.

I don't think the issue ... (Below threshold)
Brian:

I don't think the issue was with the argument, but in the Clinton storming the boys home to take him by force, rather than take the issue to the courts himself to argue his case. If he had done this through the courts, rather than with guns ablazing you would have a better defense.

No, the issue was with the legal justification. It had nothing to do with "storming" the home with "guns ablazing". You're just adding those terms--not part of the original statement--to add emotional imagery to what was a question of legal interpretation and executive power. This is the same tactic used by people who throw the phrase "starving to death" into every other sentence. Painting emotional imagery is fine, but if you want to join in on a discussion of legalities, leave it outside.

Furthermore, how do you ... (Below threshold)
Brian:

Furthermore, how do you figure that a surviving spouse always benefits financially from their spouse's death?

I didn't say that. I said "the financial beneficiary of a dying person" does. Since the financial beneficiary is usually a spouse, that should address your question.

Brian did you somehow miss ... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Brian did you somehow miss the Elian thing? The swat team did storm the doors of the home with guns drawn in order to forcibly remove him from that home.

Clinton did not have any kind of permission from any court to do so.

Clinton hadn't argued his case before the court.

So yeah, it is similar.

I see so many people spouti... (Below threshold)
Teri:

I see so many people spouting off about how important it is to have a living will. I think that the real issue is making sure that the people you are legally bound to are people who have your best interests at heart.

Terri's problem is not that she did not have a living will but that she was married to a living creep.

BrianShould all... (Below threshold)

Brian

Should all people standing by their spouses' deathbeds be suspect now?

Would you be surprised if I told you that in any suspicious death the spouse is always the first suspect?

And it ain't just s/he is there, its because there be a whole lot of killin' goin' on 'tween the "til do us part" crowd ... let alone the shoving and beating.

Brian did you somehow mi... (Below threshold)
Brian:

Brian did you somehow miss the Elian thing? The swat team did storm the doors of the home with guns drawn in order to forcibly remove him from that home.

Yes, they did. But the discussion you were interjecting into focused on the legalities, justification, and precedent surrounding incidents of the executive branch overriding the judicial branch, including the incident with Elian. If you want to make a cogent contribution on those points, you're welcome to. But commenting just so you can say "guns were ablazing" isn't really on topic.

Would you be surprised i... (Below threshold)
Brian:

Would you be surprised if I told you that in any suspicious death the spouse is always the first suspect?

Not at all. I've watched enough episodes of Columbo to know this. However, we're not talking about "suspicious" deaths here.

I do not want to read about... (Below threshold)
firstbrokenangel:

I do not want to read about Terri Shiavo again. I wish God would take her (he probably already has) and let her family bury her and put an end to this awful mess.

Cindy

The "Contract with America"... (Below threshold)
Neo:

The "Contract with America" wasn't even what you said it was. The Contract only promised to bring the 10 items to the floor for a vote, there was no promise to pass them.

If a promsie to vote on 10 items polls bad, just wonder what the number would have been if they had promised to pass them all.

Neo that is sort of stupid ... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Neo that is sort of stupid argument.

I think it can be assumed that if the GOP intended to bring those items to the floor, they intended to pass a bill. What the GOP could not guarantee was that they would pass, since there was a whole other side of the aisle, and a democrat president in office. The best they COULD promise was a vote on the floor.

Jim raised an issue that I ... (Below threshold)
John:

Jim raised an issue that I find very interesting: the role of the media.

I'm not going to critique--any further than this sentence--the fact that they mis-reported many technical issues that went beyond easy sound-bites or the limited understanding of legal issues or simple factual errors.

Instead, I want to look at the coverage of the events as portrayed on TV.

Is anyone going to argue that the visuals and the interviews were heavily weighted to one side? For every 10 appearances of a member of the Schindler family, there was--perhaps--one by someone from Schiavo side. For every 10 live spots in front of the hospice--filled with "safe Terri" signs and chants--there was, not even, one of a court building. For every 10 interviews with a medical care staff of the various nursing homes supporting the Schindlers, there were exactly none supporting Schiavo.

Now this kind of coverage certainly suggests that there's only one "true" side to the issue. In doing so, however, it is leaving a false impression.

I've seen far more of Randal Terry than I have of Michael Schiavo. Terry has political interest in the case, but his interests are nowhere near as intimate as Michael Schiavo's. Does the volume of Randal Terry make his statements somehow more "true"? Does the limited media access to Michael Schiavo make him guilty of something? Of course the answer to those rhetorical questions is, "no."

The same problem arises--in spades--with the TV channels' use of the video clips of Terri Schiavo. These clips, accounting for minutes of material edited--by the Schindlers--from hours of videotape, support their claims. Obviously. What do the other four hours of tape show?

Not having access to the unused material, we can't know perfectly. But comments by Wolfsohn, the Guardian ad litem appointed by the governor, states that the clips are unrepresentative of the factual case.

How many times per day have you seen those clips, chosen to suggest that there is some sentience remaining in Terri Schiavo? Hundreds, if you're glued to the TV.

Don't you think that those images--as unrepresentative as they are--color your impressions?

We develop filters and screens to protect ourselves against false, misleading, overstated claims made in advertising because we have experience to base our behavior on. What's our experience that enables us to build effective filters against misuse of video clips of Terri? Are we appropriately discounting the effects of editorial decision on the part of the Schindlers and their attorneys?

For whatever reason they may have, the Schiavo side of this issue has limited its publicity on this matter. But the simple fact that TV will always go for available images creates an immediate and automatic bias in coverage.

"Fair and balanced" coverage would make for terrible TV. For every child being handcuffed at the hospice, there would be a picture of a child sitting in a library, picking his nose, or on a ballfield, sliding into second base. For every former nurse decrying Michael Schiavo, there would be a nurse saying he did a good job, or even a nurse saying, "I didn't see anything special either way."

For every statement by a Schindler, there would be a statement by someone from the Schiavo camp. For every Randal Terry or Br. Whomever, there'd be someone to counter them.

While there have been a few counter voices, the lack of equal volume is important. It's not important because there's no one to offer a valid argument to the contrary, but because decisions were made on one side to take a lower media profile. Nurses who chose not to speak on camera--assuming they were even asked, which is not a safe assumption--may have been acting on their senses of propriety or their views of medical privacy.

These things do not, rationally, add up to there being only one real side to this case. But if you were to judge solely by TV coverage, that's not the conclusion you'd reach.

Most of the pro-Michael Schiavo coverage has been through talking heads: professors or lawyers who carefully think before they speak. Interesting and fact-filled, but horrible TV... boring! TV wants emotion, it wants conflict, it wants viewers to be glued to their sets by a compelling drama, it wants video of moving figures. It wants advertisers.

It is not concerned about telling a full and accurate story, but in drawing audience.

Drawing audience should never be confused with the highest quality of rational thought. It's all aimed at emotions.

One thing I have noticed... (Below threshold)
Boyd:

One thing I have noticed is that pretty much all of the posts I have seen, where somebody changed their mind after learning the facts, they changed it in favor of Micheal walking away and letting her parents take care of her. Granted that isn't anything close to a scientific poll, but it is something I have noticed. - Just Me

Well, count me as an exception to your observation, JM. I was initially of the opinion that Terri was suffering from a severe case of activist judges, an unfaithful husband wanting to put her in the ground so he could lay claim to settlement money, and twisted and tortured laws that let the current situation arise.

While I suppose I could stick by the "twisted laws" opinion, after I devoted about thirty hours to researching the entire situation, the petitions to the various courts and their resulting rulings, I'm now left with the opinion that letting Terri die, while horribly sad, is the proper course of action.

There have been lots of accusations, especially against Michael Schiavo, that essentially amount to slander. These are often accusations of crimes being committed, but I suppose that law enforcement agencies are all under the same evil sway as all of the Florida and Federal courts who have heard claim after claim in this case, and have consistently and repeatedly rejected them.

My observation is that the more people study and understand the circumstances and law surrounding the Schiavo case, the more likely they are to support the positions that 1) Terri is in a PVS, 2) Terri expressed her desire not to be forced to live in such a state, so 3) according to current Florida law, she must be allowed to die.

This isn't pleasant, and I refuse to cast aspersions on anyone, regardless of their opinion on this matter, but having educated myself (thank you, Internet and blogosphere), I have been swayed from the position of wanting to keep Terri alive to wanting to allow her to die.

Cast your stones and arrows, but that's what I believe.




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