Posts tagged ‘complaint’

Illustrating Pollution Stories with Steam Plumes

Readers will know of my pet peeve on this issue.  It turns out this has come up as a viewer complaint at the BBC several times and they actually have a policy on it, though like many media organizations they don't consistently follow their own guide.

You can see many examples simply by searching google images for "air pollution".  The people riding bikes with masks are in actual pollution.  The rest of the photos on the first page are mainly steam plumes.  Note how the photographers like to catch the steam at dusk or backlit so they look dark and sortof smokey.

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Arizona Corporation Commission Web Site is Criminally Insecure

Today I had to do my annual renewal of my corporate registration in Arizona.  As in most states, this involves a bit of information foreplay followed by the purpose of the exercise -- sending in a check to the corporation commission.

But here is the extraordinarily scary part -- I started the annual reporting process by just typing in the name of my company and getting started.  There was no password protection, no identity check.  They had no way of knowing I had anything to do with this corporation and yet I was answering questions like "have you been convicted for fraud."  The potential for mischief is enormous.  One would have to get the timing right (an annual report must be due before one can get in) but one could easily open the site on January 1 and start entering false information in the registrations for such corporations as Exxon and Wal-Mart.

See for yourself.  Here is their web site.  Below is a screen shot of the site letting me in to edit one of Wal-Mart's corporate registrations in Arizona:

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Again, note what I am saying.  This is not the result of hacking.  This is not lax security I figured out how to evade.  This is the result of no security whatsoever.  I simply went to the link above, clicked on the Wal-Mart Associates link, and then clicked on the annual report link.  I know from doing my own registration that there is a signature page at the end, but all you do is type in the name of an officer and a title -- data that is right there on the site.  It's like asking you for a password after the site just listed all the valid passwords.

If I disliked Wal-Mart, I could put all kinds of crazy garbage in here.  I did not go further, because I would have had to answer these questions to proceed and I had no desire to mess with another company's critical data, but if I had gone further I could have changed their mailing address, the names of their officers, etc. -- all I had to do was just pay the $60-ish registration fee for them and they would have a big mess on their hands to sort out.   If I had access to a fake or stolen credit card and a public computer, I could have done it all without any hope of being traced.

By the way, from my experience, this is not unique to Arizona.  This criminally lax behavior seems to be the norm in most states.

I have submitted this all as a complaint to the state, so far with no response.  If anyone in AZ knows how I can get someone's attention with this, let me know.

Libertarian: I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

From Lee Goodman on an opinion piece in the WSJ

This startling assertion of government power became public in December when the FEC released an enforcement file in the case of a Boston television station's regular Sunday-morning news program, "On the Record." The station, WCVB, had invited two congressional candidates (a Democrat and a Republican) into its studio to appear on "On the Record" in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election and formatted the joint appearance as a 30-minute debate.

Another candidate (a libertarian) who was not invited filed a complaint alleging that the value of WCVB's production costs and airtime constituted unlawful corporate contributions to the two candidates who were invited.

Wow, I am sure glad the "libertarian" is pushing for government regulation of speech and government restrictions on the decision-making of private businesses.

Ventura County Blues, Update

One of my favorites writers Megan McArdle comments on my post about the regulatory excess in California.  The same post was linked by Reason as well.  The Reason post got the attention of Ron Paul, who will be interviewing me for his radio show next week.

I posted a few updates on the article today:

Wow, reading this again, I left out so much!  An employee once sued us at this location for harassment and intimidation by her manager -- when the manager was her sister!  It cost me over $20,000 in legal expenses to get the case dismissed.  I had an older couple file a state complaint for age discrimination when they were terminated -- despite the fact that our entire business model is to hire retired people and the vast majority of our employees are 70 and older.  And how could I have forgotten the process of getting a liquor license?  I suppose I left it out because while tedious (my wife and I had to fly to California to get fingerprinted, for example), it is not really worse than in other places -- liquor license processes are universally bad, a feature and not a bug for the established businesses one is trying to compete with.   We gave the license up pretty quickly, when we saw how crazy and irresponsible much of the customer base was.  Trying to make the place safer and more family friendly, we banned alcohol from the lake area, and faced a series of lawsuit threats over that.

Yet Another Reason To Keep Government Out of Commerce

Because the government exempts itself from the most basic rules that apply to private companies.

Raising concerns about consumer privacy, California's health exchange has given insurance agents the names and contact information for tens of thousands of people who went online to check out coverage but didn't ask to be contacted.

The Covered California exchange said it started handing out this consumer information this week as part of a pilot program to help people enroll ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.

State officials said they are only trying to help potential customers find insurance and sign up in time. But some insurance brokers and consumers who were contacted said they were astonished by the state's move.

"I'm shocked and dumbfounded," said Sam Smith, an Encino insurance broker and president of the California Assn. of Health Underwriters, an industry group.

Smith said he was under the impression from the exchange that these consumers had requested assistance. He received the names of two consumers this week but has not yet contacted them.

"These people would have a legitimate complaint," Smith said.

The names provided include people who started an insurance application on the Covered California website since enrollment launched Oct. 1, but for whatever reason never picked a health plan or completed the sign-up process.

The state said it provided information on tens of thousands of people who logged into the state's website, but it didn't know the exact number.

The exchange said agents were given names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses if available.

Courts Have Become the Temple of Junk Science

If the Left is really as passionate as they say they are about taking on people and institutions who are anti-science, then they should be dedicating themselves to rethinking the current tort system.  Toyota may be facing $5 billion in settlements due to a defect that government reports and independent studies say is not there.

And recall NHTSA's performance during the furor almost four years ago over alleged runaway Toyotas. Its then-overseer, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, happily participated in congressional hearings designed to flog for the benefit of trial lawyers the idea of a hidden bug in Toyota's electronic throttle control.

When the agency much more quietly came out with a report a year later debunking the idea of an electronic defect, notice how little good it did Toyota. The car maker still found it necessary to cough up $1.2 billion to satisfy owners who claimed their cars lost value in the media frenzy over a non-defect. Toyota has also seen the tide turning against it lately as it resists a deluge of accident claims.

At first, opposing lawyers were hesitant to emphasize an invisible defect that government research suggested didn't exist. That was a tactical error on their part. In an Oklahoma trial last month involving an 82-year-old woman driver, jurors awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and were ready to assign punitive damages in a complaint focused on a hypothetical bug when Toyota abruptly settled on undisclosed terms.

In another closely-watched trial set to begin in California in March, an 83-year-old female driver (who has since died from unrelated causes) testified in a deposition that she stepped on the brake instead of the gas. The judge has already ruled that if the jury decides to believe her testimony, it is entitled to infer the existence of a defect that nobody can find.

These cases, out of some 300 pending, were chosen for a reason. Study after study, including one last year by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, finds that elderly female drivers are inordinately prone to "pedal misapplication." If Toyota can't prevail in these cases, the company might be wise to run up the white flag and seek a global settlement that some estimate at upwards of $5 billion—quite a sum for a non-defect.

Trying to Make My Job Impossible

Walter Olson has an article on three recent 5-4 decisions where we narrowly avoided Supreme Court rulings that would have further separated liability as a business owner from actual bad actions.  This one in particular resonates with me:

Vance raised the question of who counts as a “supervisor” for purposes of harassment liability. Under existing Court precedent, employers are more or less automatically liable when a “supervisor” engages in harassment. When it’s a co-worker, they are still frequently liable – e.g., if they have received a complaint about it but not fixed things, or if they have negligently allowed the situation to develop – but liability isn’t as close to automatic. As all Justices recognized, however, the old model of a workplace with a military-like chain of command is fast giving way to newer models in which it is extremely hard to tell who is supervising whom, and in particular work orders (“Here, do this for me.”) can issue in multiple directions, not just from “up” to “down.” The four liberal justices were happy to blur the lines by saying that the more people are doing supervisor-like things, the more employees’ misconduct will be imputed automatically to the employer with no chance for it to raise counterarguments that it had acted properly. The majority led by Justice Alito more reasonably recognized that the ability to take tangible employment actions against a co-worker is a better test of “supervisor” than the ability to ask them to undertake some work responsibility.

Last year I got sucked into a lawsuit where an ex-employee, after her termination, sued our company for allegedly racist remarks another employee made about her husband.  The lawsuit was the first we ever heard about the alleged incident -- it was never reported to me or any other manager or employee, it was behavior that was banned by our policies and training, and we never (obviously) had a chance to make any corrections.  The litigant tried to argue that the person who made the alleged remarks was "supervisory" because she had sometimes been asked to draft a shift schedule for the manager.

We eventually had this dismissed, but it cost us $25,000 in legal fees to make it go away.   It was particularly frustrating given that if this had ever been raised as an issue to me, it would have been investigated and heads would have rolled if necessary.  This whole notion of having liability even when operating to the highest standards is just terrifying.  And four Supreme Court justices tried to make all this irrelevant, essentially linking my liability to the standards and intelligence of whoever is my weakest employee.

SAT Scores Are Bad Education Evaluation Data

I am happy to see the public school system coming in for much-deserved criticism.  I don't have anything to add to this article that I have not already said about schools many times.  But I want to make one complaint about a chart used in the blog post:

sat-scores

 

SAT scores are a terrible metric for measuring academic performance over time.

First, I am not at all convinced that the test scoring does not shift over time (no WAY my son had a higher score than me, LOL).

But perhaps the most important problem is that all students don't take the SAT -- it is a choice.  Shifts in the mix of kids taking the test -- for example, if over time more kids get interested in college so that more marginal academic kids take the test -- then the scores are going to move solely based on mix shifts.  Making this more complicated, there is at least one competitive test (the ACT) which enjoys more popularity in some states than others, so the SAT will represent an incomplete and shifting geographic mix of the US.  Finally, as students have gotten smarter about this whole process**, they gravitate to the ACT or the SAT based on differing capabilities, since they test in different ways.

To me, all this makes SAT scores barely more scientific than an Internet poll.

** If you have not had a college-bound student recently, you will have to trust me on this, but parents can spend an astounding amount of time trying to out-think this stuff.  And that is here in flyover country.  Apparently private school parents on the East Coast can be absurd (up to and including hiring consultants for 6 figures).  A few years ago it was in vogue to try to find your kid a unique avocation.  Violin was passe -- I knew kids playing xylophone and the bagpipes.  A friend of mine at a high profile DC private school used to have fun with other parents telling them his son was a national champion at falconry, the craziest thing he could make up on the spur of the moment at a cocktail party.  Other parents would sigh enviously, wishing they had thought of that one for their kid.

Restricting Government Speech

I have been emailing the Florida Secretary of State today, trying to get information on an article I am writing on corporate minutes scams (something I have blogged about in the past).  The folks in Florida have been helpful, no complaint there, which is why I took the individual's name off the email below.

It is the footer in this email that bothers me, specifically the chart on the bottom left.   My guess is that this footer is appended to all emails from government employees, at least of the Secretary of State's office.  It strikes me the attached chart crosses the line from public information into the majority political party making a campaign point.  Here is an enlargement of the chart:

My guess is that many Democrats in the state would not necessarily agree this is "the right direction".  Certainly President Obama went on the record last week as saying that he thought that the decline in public sector workers was bad, not good.

I think readers know that I likely agree with the sentiments of the people who made this chart.  I think increasing private employment and decreasing public employment is the right direction.  But just as it is important to support free speech of people we disagree with or find objectionable, it is important to oppose government excesses even when we are in favor of its goals.

This is a great campaign chart.  It is not an appropriate attachment to official government business mail.

Fannie and Freddie: Worse Than We Thought

From Edward Pinto at the American

Fannie and Freddie entered into agreements accepting responsibility for misleading conduct discovered by the SEC, including:

1.    As of June 30, 2008, Freddie had $244 billion in subprime loans, while investors were told it had only $6 billion in subprime exposure.

a.    Freddie knew it was inadequately compensated for the risks it was taking. For example, it was taking on “subprime-like loans to help achieve [its] HUD goals” that were similar to private fixed-rate subprime, but the latter typically received “returns five to six times as great,” says the complaint.

b.    Freddie had concerns about risk layering on loans with an LTV >90% and a FICO <680. (Yet, in Freddie’s disclosures it only noted risk layering concerns on loans with an LTV >90% and a FICO <620. This is a major difference since only 10 percent of its loans fell into the LTV >90% and a FICO <620 category, while nearly half fell into the LTV >90% and a FICO <680 one.)

2.    As of June 30, 2008, Fannie had $641 billion in Alt-A loans (23 percent of its single-family loan guaranty portfolio), while investors were told it had less than half that amount ($306 billion, or 11 percent of its single-family loan guaranty portfolio).

3.    The SEC complaint disclosed that Freddie had a coding system to track “subprime,” “other-wise subprime,” and “subprime-like” loans in its loan guaranty portfolio even as it denied having any significant subprime exposure.

These suits are important because they demonstrate that Fannie and Freddie “told the world their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was … and mislead the market about the amount of risk on the companies’ books,” said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

The Next Step Past "Unexpected"

What does a statist government do when attaching "unexpected" to all negative economic numbers does not provide the necessary political cover?

Argentina’s government has filed criminal charges against the managers of an economic consulting firm, escalating its persecution of independent economists.

…The government is charging MyS Consultores with “publishing false information about inflation data” to benefit themselves and their clients. The criminal complaint alleges that MyS’s data also lead to speculative behavior in Argentina’s bond market.

…Consumer prices rose 9.7% in May from a year ago, according to the national statistics agency, Indec. But virtually all economists say annual inflation surpasses 20%—one of the world’s highest rates—angering government officials who dismiss inflation as a problem.

…So far this year, the Secretariat has fined at least nine economic research firms 500,000 pesos ($122,000) each. This week, the Secretariat also slapped a second fine on Orlando J Ferreres & Asociados.

“They fine us for saying how much prices have risen,” Mr. Ferreres, director of his eponymous firm, said. “They could seek criminal charges against all of us. We don’t know how far they’re willing to go.”

Mr. Ferreres said the legal actions are part of a strategy to prevent independent economists from publishing potentially negative information during an election year…

Government officials say they hoped the fines would deter economists from “deceiving” the public into making poor financial decisions by publishing inflation estimates that differ considerably from Indec’s consumer price index.

It is sad to see how far Argentina has fallen.  In the past it has been one of my favorite countries in the world to visit.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Allowing this kind of hell to exist has got to be one of the worst systematic civil rights violations that still exist in this country

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released its first-ever estimate of the number of inmates who are sexually abused in America each year. According to the department’s data, which are based on nationwide surveys of prison and jail inmates as well as young people in juvenile detention centers, at least 216,600 inmates were victimized in 2008 alone. Contrary to popular belief, most of the perpetrators were not other prisoners but staff members—corrections officials whose job it is to keep inmates safe. On average, each victim was abused between three and five times over the course of the year. The vast majority were too fearful of reprisals to seek help or file a formal complaint.

Just to calibrate, the total number of sexual assaults reported outside of prisons in the US is something like 190,000 a year.

Sexual violence is not an inevitable part of prison life. On the contrary, it is highly preventable. Corrections officials who are committed to running safe facilities train their staff thoroughly. They make sure that inmates who are especially vulnerable to abuse—such as small, mentally ill, and gay or transgender detainees—are not housed with likely perpetrators. And they hold those who commit sexual assaults accountable, even if they are colleagues.

But many corrections administrators are reluctant to make sexual abuse prevention a top priority, preferring to maintain the status quo rather than acknowledge the role their own employees play. Others are actually fighting reform efforts, claiming, in spite of the evidence, that sexual violence is rare.

This resistance is reflected in the slow implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which Congress unanimously passed in 2003. The law mandated binding national standards to help end sexual abuse in detention. But almost eight years later, the Justice Department has yet to promulgate final standards.

Take California for example, where the prison guard union is among the most powerful in the country.  Given how far in the tank legislators in that state are for their public unions, it is hugely unlikely this will get addressed any time soon

Get Over It

As much as I enjoy seeing Yale circling the drain of self-destruction, I am simply flabbergasted by the most recent discrimination suit it faces from a group of current and former female students.

The Yale group's confidential Title IX complaint to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reportedly includes testimony about sexual assaults, but the hostile-environment charge against the university rests as well on a litany of complaints about offensive exercises of First Amendment freedoms. A December 2010 draft complaint letter, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), focuses on these "incidents": In 2006, a group of frat boys chant "No means yes, yes means anal" outside the Yale Women's Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women's dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women's Center holding signs saying, "We love Yale sluts." In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers "it would take to have sex with them."

There are few adults who would not recognize these incidents as stupid, boorish frat-boy behavior not to be emulated.  But taking Yale to court, in effect seeking to force the University to punish such speech, takes the current college trend of protection the right not to be offended to absurd extremes.

Consider for a moment that there are radical women's organizations on most college campuses that take it as an article of faith that all men are rapists and all men are complicit in violence against women.   How is this speech any less aggressive, though it is treated with complete respect by universities.  In fact, many integrate this point of view into required Freshman sensitivity training.   Women on compuses routinely engage in speech saying that every man is a guilty felon complicit in awful crimes, and I don't see any men whining and running to Uncle Sugar to protect their delicate ears from offense.  At least the frat boys were probably drunk and joking -- the women are sober and dead serious.

Don't not be mistaken -- this is not about rights or freedom, but about a bid for totalitarian control of campuses by a niche group.  From Wendy Kaminer

Sad to say, but feminism helped lead the assault on civil liberty and now seems practically subsumed by it. Decades ago, when Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, and their followers began equating pornography with rape (literally) and calling it a civil-rights violation, groups of free-speech feminists fought back, in print, at conferences, and in state legislatures, with some success. We won some battles (and free speech advocates in general can take solace in the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the right to engage in offensive speech on public property and public affairs). But all things considered (notably the generations of students unlearning liberty) we seem to be losing the war, especially among progressives.

This is not simply a loss for liberty on campus and the right to indulge in what's condemned as verbal harassment or bullying, broadly defined. It's a loss of political freedom: the theories of censoring offensive or hurtful speech that are used to prosecute alleged student harassers are used to foment opposition to the right to burn a flag or a copy of the Quran or build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero. The disregard for liberty that the Obama administration displays in its approach to sexual harassment and bullying is consistent with its disregard for  liberty, and the presumption of innocence, in the Bush/Obama war on terror. Of course, the restriction of puerile, sexist speech on campus is an inconvenience compared to the indefinite detention or show trials of people suspected of terrorism, sometimes on the basis of un-reviewed or un-reviewable evidence. But underlying trivial and tragic deprivations of liberty, the authoritarian impulse is the same.

PS-  The last part in the first quote about rating women as related to sex is ironic, as, if memory serves, Yale was the location around 1980 when a group of female students created a guide rating male students on their sexual talents.  When women do it, it is a brave act of liberation.  When men do it, it is sexual harassment.

PPS-  My son is going through the college admissions process.  All these schools stress how much they are looking for future leaders.  How can Yale be so selective that it has an admissions rate around 7% of applicants but still end up with so many people who cannot function in the world as an adult?  The women are begging to have a daddy to protect them and the men seem to need a daddy to kick their ass until they act like adults.

I Hate to Enjoy This, But...

Apparently Google is under attack from many directions for anti-trust violations, the main complaint seeming to be that Google tilts its search results to favor its own divisions   (e.g. Google Places at the top of travel searches).    The Reason article as well as the Politico piece illustrate just how much competitors with political pull, rather than consumers, are the true beneficiaries of anti-trust policy.

I really have nothing but disdain for this use of government power, but I can't help but laugh at the plight of Google, whose CEO had a large role in suing Microsoft for browser anti-trust years ago for the horrible crime of giving away a free browser with their OS.  In fact, ironically, the core of this suit was about Microsoft going too far in integrating the OS with browser.  In many ways, Microsoft was probably prescient (for once, they tend to be a follower) in looking towards an OS built around browser.  In fact, by preventing Microsoft from such integration, the suit cleared the way for an integrated browser based OS to be introduced by.... Google with Chrome OS.  And there sure is a lot of browser / OS integration in my Google android-based phone.  I also don't remember my Android phone offering me a range of browser and search choices, requirements their CEO had the government impose on Microsoft.

More recently, Google has led the charge in Washington to regulate broadband suppliers in the name of "net neutrality."  This classic bit of tilting the playing field in the name of creating a level playing field was theoretically aimed at stopping broadband companies from tilting their bandwidth for or against different web sites.  Thus critics of Google who are concerned with the tilting of their search results for or against companies are demanding "search neutrality."  This is a horrible bit of government interventionism, but the irony is delicious.

Google's efforts in net neutrality really are a head scratcher for me.  What did they really get from that, and was it really worth opening the Pandora's box of government Internet regulation?  And didn't anyone there not see the obvious application of the same logic to themselves?  If you establish the principle that Cox Cable has to be a common carrier, it seems like a small step to say that Google Search must be as well.  And maybe Amazon.com next must be a common carrier of retail goods.    This is bad, bad stuff and Google and its CEO has brought it all on themselves.

Who Cares

Apparently Google is getting accused of skewing its search results to favor its own products.   To which I say, so freaking what?   When did Google suddenly become a common carrier?  The implication is that by their very success (evidenced by a high market share) they have imposed on themselves more onerous rules than others operate under.  When I stay in the Marriott, and I ask the concierge about local dining options, don't I expect him or her to list the hotel's restaurant options first?

I suppose consumers might have a mild beef if Google is misrepresenting its service, but for gods sakes its free -- if you are suspicious of the results, there are like a zillion competitors.

This complaint is basically coming from businesses.  I know from past experience that seeing one's page rank drop with one of the regular Google algorithm tweaks is frustrating, but companies that through good SEO have climbed to the top of the search rankings are not owed anything, and in particular they are not owed that search ranking that they got for free.  In fact, these are businesses that are basically free riders on Google whining about Google's actions.  If they want to complain Google is not abiding by its terms of service on its paid listings, fine.  That is potentially a legitimate complaint.  But can't we agree that, as a foundation principle, government consumer protection action is never required for a free service somehow falling short of expectations?

Government Oversight Worse Than Private Alternatives

Via Overlawyered:

As part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), Congress mandated that the CPSC create a "publicly available consumer product safety information database" compiling consumer complaints about the safety of products. Last week, by a 3-2 majority, the commission voted to adopt regulations that have dismayed many in the business community by ensuring that the database will needlessly include a wide range of secondhand, false, unfounded or tactical reports. The Washington Times editorializes:

"¦[Under the regulations as adopted last week] anybody who wants to trash a product, for whatever reason, can do so. The commission can leave a complaint on the database indefinitely without investigating its merits "even if a manufacturer has already provided evidence the claim is inaccurate," as noted by Carter Wood of the National Association of Manufacturers' "Shopfloor" blog"¦.

Trial lawyers pushing class-action suits could gin up hundreds of anonymous complaints, then point the jurors to those complaints at the "official" CPSC website as [support for] their theories that a product in question caused vast harm. "The agency does not appear to be concerned about fairness and does not care that unfounded complaints could damage the reputation of a company," said [Commissioner Nancy] Nord.

Commissioners Nord and Anne Northup introduced an alternative proposal (PDF) aimed at making the contents of the database more reliable and accurate but were outvoted by the Democratic commission majority led by Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. Nord: "under the majority's approach, the database will not differentiate between complaints entered by lawyers, competitors, labor unions and advocacy groups who may have their own reasons to "˜salt' the database, from those of actual consumers with firsthand experience with a product."

Any number of private actors have already tackled this problem. Amazon.com has probably the most comprehensive set of product reviews, and has taken a number of steps (e.g. real name reviews) to increase trust in their system.  Reviewers who are shills (either for or against a product) are quickly outed by other reviewers.   Another site whose reviews I rely on a lot is TripAdvisor, which has hotel and other travel reviews.   TripAdvisor allows the reviewed hotels to respond to individual reviews in a way that the consumer can see to get both sides of the story.

Apparently, none of this back and forth will be allowed in the CPSC data base.  The Democrats who wrote the process only want bad stuff in the data base, so it will not allow manufacturer responses or even positive reviews to appear.  The only possible justification for the government to run this database would be for the government to take a role in investigating and confirming or overturning claims and complaints, but it is clear it won't be doing this either.   This will just be a location for disgruntled people to drop turds on various manufacturers, all with the imprimatur of the government.  I can't see consumers finding much value here compared to the alternatives, but I can see the value in a courtroom to be able to stuff a government site with unsubstantiated claims and then use that site to say that the "official" government site is full of criticisms of the product.

One (Of Many) Problems with the TSA

One substantial problem with the TSA that is seldom discussed is that in the switch from using private security to government agents to screen passengers, there was always going to be a temptation by the Feds to expand the airport screening from narrowly a search for weapons that might endanger an airplane to a catch-all crime search point.  Here is an example of the latter:

That same screener started emptying her wallet. "He was taking out the receipts and looking at them," she said.

"I understand that TSA is tasked with strengthening national security but [it] surely does not need to know what I purchased at Kohl's or Wal-Mart," she wrote in her complaint, which she sent me last week.

She says she asked what he was looking for and he replied, "Razor blades." She wondered, "Wouldn't that have shown up on the metal detector?"

In a side pocket she had tucked a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000.

Her thought: "Oh, my God, this is none of his business."

Two Philadelphia police officers joined at least four TSA officers who had gathered around her. After conferring with the TSA screeners, one of the Philadelphia officers told her he was there because her checks were numbered sequentially, which she says they were not.

"It's an indication you've embezzled these checks," she says the police officer told her. He also told her she appeared nervous. She hadn't before that moment, she says.

She protested when the officer started to walk away with the checks. "That's my money," she remembers saying. The officer's reply? "It's not your money."

At this point she told the officers that she had a good explanation for the checks, but questioned whether she had to tell them.

"The police officer said if you don't tell me, you can tell the D.A."

Heads I am Cheated, Tails You Owe Me Something

Read this story, and then imagine if the facts had been reversed:

"A sports conference that always scheduled weekday basketball doubleheaders in which women's teams played the first game -- letting the men play in the later time slot -- has altered the practice, after an anonymous sex discrimination complaint charged that this made the women's games appear to be a "warm-up" act for the men's games.

Now, hoping to avoid possible gender equity suits, other athletic conferences are considering similar scheduling changes.  Last month, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference announced that it would alternate from season to season the order in which men's and women's teams would play in doubleheaders. The men will play first this season, and the women will play first next season.

Dell Robinson, the conference commissioner, said the decision was made after the league received an inquiry in March from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. An anonymous complaint filed with the agency argued that the negative connotation conveyed by always having women's teams play first in these doubleheaders was detrimental to women's athletics."

So let's imagine a alternate world where women's basketball games had always traditionally been played in the second game of the double-header, after men's games.  Does anyone believe that the civil rights folks wouldn't have filed a complaint saying

Having women's games always played after men's games makes them appear to be an after-thought to the main contest, positioning the game later in the prime social hours where potential student fans will be more likely to leave early and head to the bar instead of staying to watch.  The negative connotation conveyed by always having women't teams play last in these doubleheaders is detrimental to women's athletics.

See, its easy to be a race/gender advocate.

The State of Anti-Trust

A lot of folks believe that antitrust law is mainly used for consumer protection.  That may have once been true, but it certainly is not true today.  Antitrust laws are used today by one group of competitors to try to hamstring another competitor in their business, usually one that is kicking their collective butts.

Here is the latest example:

The Justice Department is investigating allegations that International Business Machines Corp. has monopolized the market for mainframe computers, broadening Washington's search for anti-competitive behavior in the technology industry.

The requests, a special kind of subpoena used in antitrust investigations, followed a complaint by [the Computer & Communications Industry Association"”a group with many IBM rivals among its members] to the Justice Department accusing IBM of harming businesses by abusing its dominance of the market for mainframes.

Narry a customer or consumer to be found.  So what is the complaint?

the CCIA alleges IBM began to tighten its grip on the market by not allowing its newest software to be used on competitors' machines.

Waaaaaaaa!  Develop your own freaking software.  The only reason these competitors have a product at all is due to another anti-trust settlement 50 years ago:

For decades, [IBM] operated under terms of a 1956 consent decree with the government that required it to license mainframe technology to competitors.

Roughly the equivalent of Coca-Cola being forced to license its formula to whoever wants it.

But I can prove this has nothing to do with consumers.  Take an earlier, similar case against IBM several years ago.

The lawsuits followed IBM's decision not to license its newest mainframe operating system, called z/OS, to customers of Platform Solutions Inc., a company that made cheaper mainframes that were compatible with IBM's.

In its complaint, Platform alleged that IBM was unlawfully "tying" its software to its mainframe hardware and requiring customers to purchase both.

Congratulations, this company was able to beat IBM on price when they bore no hardware development costs (IBM was forced to license its designs to them to copy) and obviously was a free rider on software as well.   But that is beside the point.  Here is the solution that settled the case:

That case was settled last year, after IBM purchased Platform and ended its business.

LOL.  I am pretty sure that if the anti-trust case had anything to do with customers, that increasing IBM's market share and shutting down a low cost competitor would not have been considered an appropriate fix to IBM's supposedly anti-competitive behavior.  Antitrust has devolved nearly entirely into a legal club to wack a competitor who is beating you in the marketplace.  In Europe, it has become a tool to wack foreign competitors to domestic companies without triggering trade retaliations (e.g. Microsoft, Honeywell).

Wal-Mart Credit Compaint

I don't know if this is a result of the credit tightening or just mindlessly poor service by Wal-Mart credit as provided by GE Capital

Continue reading ‘Wal-Mart Credit Compaint’ »

It Is Getting Harder and Harder to Write Satire

A portion of my novel BMOC was satire of oddball lawsuits.  In that book, for example, I had a woman suing Disney because she found that the characters at Disney World were people in costumes rather than the actual animated characters she had expected.  I thought that was enough beyond reason and reality to constitute satire, but I guess I was wrong:

On May 21, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a complaint filed by a woman who said she had purchased "Cap'n Crunch with Crunchberries" because she believed "crunchberries" were real fruit. The plaintiff, Janine Sugawara, alleged that she had only recently learned to her dismay that said "berries" were in fact simply brightly-colored cereal balls, and that although the product did contain some strawberry fruit concentrate, it was not otherwise redeemed by fruit. She sued, on behalf of herself and all similarly situated consumers who also apparently believed that there are fields somewhere in our land thronged by crunchberry bushes.

Good News on the Free Speech Front

Last year, a University of Delaware student was banned from campus and ordered to undergo psychological testing before he could return.  This was the administration's reaction to another student's complaint about certain content on his website, which was described as "racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic."

Now, I have a guess that I would not have thought much of this student's professed opinions, but the first amendment is there to protect speech we don't like from punishment by government bodies such as the state-run University of Delaware.  So it is good to see that the US District Court for Delaware granted this student summary judgment on his free speech claim.

In particular, I was happy to see this:

The court also noted that speech is constitutionally protected when it does not cause a substantial disruption on campus"”even
if an individual student feels so upset by the speech that she feels
threatened by it, and even if university administrators strongly
dislike what is being said. That is, the complaining student's
reaction, together with the administrative trouble involved in dealing
with the situation, was not enough to show a substantial disruption
requiring punishment for Murakowski's protected speech.

This is important.  While it seems odd, college campuses have been the vanguard for testing new theories for limiting free speech over the last several years.  One popular theory is that offense taken by the listener is sufficient grounds to hold speech to be punishable.   This definition kills any objective standards, and therefore is a blank check for speech limitation, something its proponents understand all too well.  It is good to see a higher court very explicitly striking down this standards.

Vote Yourself A Higher-Cost New Home

Arizona voters will have a chance to raise the price of a new home and reduce the choice they have in the marketplace with an initiative on the ballot this November:

The proposed measure, which requires more than 153,000 certified
signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot, includes a 10-year
warranty on new homes and gives homeowners the right to choose which
contractors with a decade-long, complaint-free record do repair work.

Having shopped from time to time for a new home, I can say that such homes with extended warranties from quality companies do exist in the marketplace - some builders offer this kind of warranty, and some do not.  All this bill is doing is reducing choice.  It is requiring that consumers no longer be offered the choice of a new home without a 10-year warranty, and will require that all homes carry this more expensive option.  I am sure that what people voting for this bill will hope for is that they will be getting today's less expensive house but with a 10-year warranty added, but that is not the way it works.

Second, this will virtually eliminates the small independent builder.  Though they do not produce a large percentage of the total homes, small builders, often individual investors with a single property, are still an important part of the market.  You might say, surely this is just an unintended consequence!  Well, what if I told you the AFL-CIO, the largest organizer of construction workers in large home builders, is the #1 financial supporter of this bill?  That information might change this from an unintended consequence to the #1 rationale behind the bill.

Finally, one can easily argue that the law is forcing people to pay for something that may well have no value.  Individuals trying to game the system can easily start a company, build some houses, pay off owners, fold up the tent, and move on to a new entity.  Consumers are left with a 10-year warranty from a company that no longer exists.  Which is how the roofing game is played by the bottom-fishers in that industry.  Which means customers have to shop around for well-established companies with long track records and good products, which, if they did so, would obviate the need for the bill in the first place.

Provisions give homeowners the ability to sue without the threat of
being responsible for a builder's attorney and expert fees and require
builders to disclose their relationships with financial institutions.

Just what we need - another industry where the plaintiffs have zero cost to launch any frivolous suit they want.

Yet another would require that model homes reflect the types of properties that are for sale.

I have no idea what this means.  Are there really buyers who are dumb enough to walk through a model, say this is the house they want, and then blandly accept a home that is totally different?

What I perhaps found funniest about the article was this bit of political positioning:

The campaign, called the Arizona Homeowners Bill of Rights
Committee, formed in the midst of this year's housing-mortgage
meltdown. And the committee has attempted to draw links between
financing and construction troubles.

"These same companies that build shoddily also were involved in the
housing-mortgage crisis. They were on both sides of this equation. They
were financing homes above people's means and selling homes that were
defective," said Richard McCracken, an attorney for the measure's
sponsor, the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association, Local
Union 359.

This is kind of a hilarious stretch - talk about guilt by association.  Of course, the bill has nothing to day about mortgages, but since homebuilders were associated with those bad mortgage guys, we should feel free to do anything we want to them.

Canada on Free Speech Death Spiral

The list of topics banned from criticism is increasing in Canada.  First it was Islam, and then it was homosexuality.  Now, it is making activist professors at public universities immune from criticism.  By order of the Canadian government:

That Mr. Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. shall
cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public
speeches, or on the internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays
and homosexuals. Further, they shall not and are prohibited from making
disparaging remarks in the future about Dr. Lund or Dr. Lund's
witnesses relating to their involvement in this complaint. Further, all
disparaging remarks versus homosexuals are directed to be removed from
current web sites and publications of Mr. Boissoin and The Concerned
Christian Coalition Inc.

That fact that I vociferously disagree with Mr. Boissoin (I am in fact thrilled, for example, that gays will be able to marry soon in California), I whole-heartedly support his right to publicly voice his opinions, even if it makes some people feel bad.  Dr. Lund, as I understand it, as a professor at a state university, is a government employee, and a vociferous one at that.  All limitations on speech are bad, but this decision has crossed that critical line of protecting government employees from criticism, what we would think as the absolute solid heart of the First Amendment (while simultaneously restricting religious beliefs, just for extra credit).

Licensed to Parent

I guess it was inevitable, but a court in California has determined that the most basic function of parenting, ie educating your children, requires a license from the state.  If you don't have such a license, you have to turn your kids over to the state to educate them for you (via Overlawyered)

Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at
home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves
of fear through California's home schooling families....

"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their
children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed
by the two other members of the district court. "Parents who fail to
[comply with school enrollment laws] may be subject to a criminal
complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to
imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and
counseling program."

Whoa!  No Constitutional right to educate our kids how we see fit?  With an imminent government takeover of our kids' eating habits as well, that will leave exactly what parental duties to parents? 

Of course we are just concerned about the well-being of the children.  Of course it has nothing to do with unionized teachers protecting their turf.  Or not:

Teachers union officials will also be closely monitoring the appeal.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he agrees
with the ruling.

"What's best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher," he said.

Update:  It is being argued that this is actually more narrow than it first appears.  The current debate seems to come down to whether the judge is an idiot and the decision is overly broad or whether the judge is an idiot and the decision is narrow.