Archive for December, 2009

 

New Year’s Review

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

So it’s that time of year again when we review the events of the past year and sum them up for those of you who haven’t really been following along, or in case you need a refresher. So let’s quit wasting time and get to it:

That’s it. Hope you all are having a happy new year, and are enjoying today’s blue moon. I’ll see you in 2010.

 
 

End Of Year Predictions Review

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

So I made some predictions last year. Let’s see how well I fared:

  1. I predicted that the Dow would end the year at or under 9,500. I would have to say I called that one incorrectly. The Dow looks to be ending the year around 10,500.
  2. I predicted that Al Franken would be seated as the senator from Minnesota. That prediction was correct.
  3. I predicted that American Idol, Top Chef and Blu-Ray would all jump the shark. I think that Americal Idol is still jumping the shark, Top Chef has not jumped, and Blu-Ray is well gone.
  4. I predicted that NY Governor Paterson would not appoint Caroline Kennedy to the open Senate seat. I was correct in that prediction.
  5. I predicted Steve Jobs would not die from his “hormone imbalance” but that he would not be fully recovered by next year. I think I called that one pretty well.
  6. I predicted that Obama’s approval ratings would fall below 50% after 250 days in office. Given that his disapproval ratings are now above 50%, I think it’s fair to say I called that one correctly.
  7. I predicted Rod Blagojevich would remain governor of Illinois. I was wrong on that one.
  8. I predicted the unemployment rate would be 9.5% as of year end. It’s apparently 9.4%. I think I called that.
  9. I predicted we would not see another major terrorist attack in 2009, as defined as one that kills over 100 people. I was wrong, a bombing in Iraq killed 120+ people in the fall.
  10. I predicted the dollar would continue to fall in 2009, and it has.
  11. I predicted that Sirius/XM and the New York times would each go out of business without major financial interventions. Both saw such interventions this year, from Liberty Media and Carlos Slim respectively. So I think I called that.
  12. I predicted that the baseball season would seem insufferably long again this season, and it did.
  13. I predicted that people would continue to be worried about the end of the world in 2012, and they do seem to be.
  14. I predicted that the War on Christmas would still be on in 2009, and I was right. See here, here, here, here, and here.

Ok, that’s it. I’ll make new predictions early next week for 2010.

 
 

Rob Sama Grand Plan – Legal Reform

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Rob Sama Grand PlanDuring my lifetime, there are three political issues that I remember from my teenage years as being issues then that are still issues today. Those are the poor state of our public education system, the mathematical certainty that our entitlements systems would collapse, and our jackpot justice system. Of these the last one should be the easiest to solve. And it is necessary to solve it before any talk of health care reform.

Philosophically speaking, there are two competing conceptions of justice at work in the United States. The first and older of the two is what’s called strict liability. Which is to say, he who is at fault pays the damage. In such a system, people pay the price for their own stupidity or negligence. The competing theory is what’s called the deep pockets theory of the law, which is to say that because somebody is going to have to pay for the damage that’s been done, best that the party who is most able to pay do so.

The problem with the deep pockets theory, of course, is that it motivates the less than scrupulous to put themselves in situations where they can sue those with the deep pockets for compensation. And not just those with deep pockets themselves such as large companies and governments, but those who are well insured as well, such as individual doctors. Indeed, an entire industry has blossomed around suing such deep pocketed parties. The result has been catastrophic.

One part of any long term answer to this problem is to only appoint judges who rule on the basis of strict liability law. But there’s more to it than that. We need to eliminate the idea that going to court is a potential bonanza. And that requires some structural changes to our current ways of managing tort disputes.

I’m going to propose a few simple reforms, and then walk through how those reforms would have worked in some famous cases.

English Rule – Loser Pays Winner’s Legal Fees

The United States stands alone in requiring everyone to pay for their own leal fees in a civil suit. In most countries, what’s called the English Rule applies, which is to say that the loser pays at least some portion of the winner’s legal fees. This is only natural and just. In the event one party is wronged and goes to court to seek justice, that justice should include the cost of going to court. Likewise, should a party have been dragged into court by a jackpot justice seeker out on a fishing expedition, justice ought to include that his cost of acquittal be paid for by he who is wrongly accusing.

The lack of such a rule encourages legal extortion throughout society. Here’s how it works. Legal extortionist files a lawsuit against MegaCompany. MegaCompany knows that the suit has no merit, and that they’ll win in the end. But legal costs will exceed $3 million to put this to bed. So they offer to settle for $1.5 million, even though they did nothing wrong. Not only is this situation manifestly unjust, but it acts as a tax on all of productive society for the benefit of a class of legal leeches. The only reason why this situation hasn’t been rectified is because our legislators are in hoc to the legal lobby, and have no regard for their constituents.

In any event, you can read much more on the English Rule here. Suffice it to say, this one reform alone would do wonders for ending the system of jackpot justice we’ve created in this country.

Class Action Reform

I don’t object to the existence of class action suits per se, though I spent a long time considering whether or not they should just be done away with. However, I can see how they serve a purpose, when scores of people have been wronged by the same party. Nevertheless, some reform is desperately needed here.

The first step is to mandate minimum damages to be a viable suit. I’ve been “involved” in 2 class action law suits, one of which resulted in getting a coupon and the other in a check for $15. In the latter case, I was not only a customer but a shareholder, so I was literally robbing myself on that one. But in either case, it wasn’t worth it. In neither case did I feel I’d been wronged, or really want a lawsuit to proceed. And when it did proceed, the result was stupid.

So there needs to be some sort of minimum damages per person for the class action to make sense. Without that, this just amounts to lawyers raiding companies on behalf of themselves. So we need a rule that says something to the effect that “If you can’t prove damages of at least $100 per class member after legal fees, then you’ve wasted everyone’s time and you lose.”

Now the objection to this will be, “But the purpose of class action lawsuits are to stop companies from screwing their customers in little ways. If you eliminate any suit where damages are under $100/class member, then what’s to stop companies from behaving badly?” And the answer is, the marketplace. When a business does something small and petty to make me unhappy, I cease frequenting that business. Conversely, when something is industry practice, like the way that a monitor size is measured, I simply learn about it and adjust my buying behavior. I just don’t need class action lawsuits to “help” me, and businesses learn from their petty bad behavior by virtue of losing customers.

The second reform that needs to be made with respect to class action lawsuits is to strictly regulate legal fees, which get paid out only after the minimum $100/claimant is paid. Something like 2.5 hours should be billable for every hour of court time, with a strictly regulated rate per hour. Without a real client to answer to who can fire the attorney or dispute the bills, a fixed rate is the only way to assure there are no abuses with legal fees.

End Punitive Damages

Punitive damages, it seems to me, is a confused concept. Punishment, by definition, ought to be for the state to engage in for violations of the law. Citizens ought not be engaging in it against each other; that is vigilantism. Punitive damages, it seems to me, seeks to legalize a form of vigilantism, or citizens meting out their own punishments.

There are several problems with this. The first is that punitive damages put the plaintiff in the position of receiving a windfall for being harmed, which only serves to encourage him to be harmed, or to not take proper precautions on his own. The second problem with this is that it violates the principle of having no ex post facto law. If something were already against the law, then there would be established and publicly debated fines for violations, and citizens would know before acting what the consequences were. That’s only just. But punitive damages undoes that, in effect creating law on the fly. And that’s unjust.

Take for example the lady who spilled hot coffee on herself after going through the McDonald’s drive through. First off, according to strict liability she’s the one at fault because she spilled the coffee, not McDonald’s. Nevertheless, her contention, and reason for seeking punitive damages, was that McDonald’s served their coffee at unreasonably hot temperatures. But McDonald’s was acting within the scope of the law at the time. And if coffee temperatures needed to be regulated, then the proper method isn’t by creating law on the fly in a courtroom and exacting insane punishments upon the company. The proper thing to do is to legislate a regulation on the maximum temperature coffee can be served in the state.

So to that end I would be supportive of any measure that eliminated punitive damages, and remanded legislative recommendations to the legislature in extreme cases where action needs to be taken. Because the proper way to assure that behavior changes is to change the law.

But at a minimum, if you are going to have punitive damages, then by God put an upper limit on them, and have the proceeds go to the state. Barring that, we will continue to see frivolous lawsuits and an increased cost of doing business if not living as a result of them.

Other Reforms

There are two other reforms that are needed. The first of which is what I’ll call specialist reforms. Basically, there’s too much junk science and other nonsense allowed in today’s courtrooms. Particularly when it comes to medical related lawsuits. A simple sanity check form a panel of experts, appointed as judicial advisors as it were, would alleviate this problem. I envision it as acting as a screen allowing or denying suits from moving forward. Basically, allowing a legitimate medical malpractice claim through, while denying the “vaccine caused my kid’s autism” lawsuit to pass.

Finally, in recent years, lawyers have taken to suing companies for the fact that their stock has dropped in price. This is about the most asinine thing imaginable. as if the proper response to a decline in stock price is to partially liquidate, as if management has control over the markets, as if management should withhold bad news from the public. These types of lawsuits should be eliminated entirely. If you buy stock, you take risk, end of story . If there’s fraud involved, let the state mete out punishment and a bankruptcy judge handle liquidations. If you don’t like the way management performs, sell your stock or vote for different directors.

 
 

Hiccuppy Poopie Baby

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

 
 

Merry Christmas 2009

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Well, here we are. Congress just delivered you a bucket of shit for the holidays, hopefully the samaBlog can do marginally better.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a shoggoth bite.

Previously:
2008
2007
2006
2005 (best of samaBlog)
2004
2003

 
 

Assassination Politics

Monday, December 21st, 2009

I think this is worth a reread. Classic Internet theory, Assassination Politics.

 
 

Happy Solstice

Monday, December 21st, 2009

It’s the shortest day of the year.

 
 

Out On A Limb

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

I’m goin’ out
Out on a limb
It’s getting pretty thin
It’s gonna fall down

Saw all my friends
They were all hanging out on a limb
Yeah, and i get that limb breaks
They’re gonna fall down

sucks

So Drudge has been reporting that there are 60 votes for cloture in the senate to end debate and bring this health bill up for a vote. I think it’s time to start discussing more radical options for putting a stop to this bill.

There are a number of senators who represent states where there is a Republican governor. Let’s review who they are:

  • Al Franken: Stole the election in Minnesota after the count showed less than 1000 votes in his opponents favor. Managed this feat through the unbelievable incompetence of his opponent. Governor is Tim Pawlenty.
  • Evan Bayh: Senator from Indiana, where Governor Mitch Daniels may be the best currently serving governor in the country. Looks like some sort of plastic Ken doll. Never heard the guy say anything, mostly because he induces narcolepsy to all within earshot.
  • Kent Conrad/Byron Dorgan: Senators from North Dakota. I know I’ve heard the names a dozen times, can’t think of what they’re all about. In any event, North Dakota has a Republican governor.
  • Chris Dodd: Somehow Connecticut has a Republican governor. Who knows what kind of senator she’d appoint, but to be sure, nobody in the state of Connecticut would miss Dodd’s absence. He’ll lose his reelection bid in 2010 too. So I would say he’s low priority.
  • Joe Lieberman: Seriously, know knows what makes this guy tick. But he’s done the right a few favors in his day, so I say give him a pass.
  • Tim Johnson: Senator from South Dakota. Again, I can’t think of anything this guy has done, but the governor there is a Republican.
  • Amy Klouchbar: Senator from Minnesota. Seriously, who is this?
  • Mary Landrieu: I always harted this woman, in particular for her staunch opposition to charter schools for DC while she sent her own kids to private schoold. In any event she’s from Louisiana, where she’ll likely lose election in 2010 anyway. Governor is Bobby Jindal.
  • Patrick Leahy: Vermont has a Republican governor??? Who knew? Seriously, that guy is safe as can be. And I’m not going to bother to mention the other Senator from Vermont, who appears to be opposed to this health care bill because it isn’t liberal enough.
  • Ben Nelson: The guy is open to bribes, apparently. But seriously, he’s a douchebag. And Nebraska has a Republican governor.
  • Jack Reed/Sheldon Whitehouse: Rhode Island has a Republican governor, but this is similar to the Vermont situation. Prolly not worth bothering.
  • Harry Ried: Senator from Nevada. Tarks’ gonna kick his ass in 2010, no doubt about that. Nevertheless, they do have a Republican governor out there.
  • Barbara Boxer/Diane Feinstein: Senators from California. Governator out there is nominally Republican but not reliable enough to make these two worthy of consideration.

So there’s my list. Do with it what you will. I personally won’t be doing anything, but it’s nice to fantasize a bit.

 
 

No Fios For Me

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Go here and here for background.

So the supervisor from Verizon called me back. I explained to her that the sign-up system said it wanted to verify my identity, not run a credit check. So I was confused as to why they were attempting to run a credit check on me, particularly for such small dollar amounts. She told me that they do it to verify my identity. I told her that I wasn’t applying for credit, and she claimed that on the sign-up form online it says you are applying for credit, which if it’s true I missed it. I told her that I didn’t need credit, that I was willing to pre-pay for the account. I explained to her I was willing to go into a Verizon store and show my identification to prove that I’m me. None of this was acceptable to her. She said that everyone needs to go through this process, even if they are pre-paying!!!

I’d like to diverge here and tell you about Hassey Landscaping. I hire Hassey to mow my lawn during the summer months. He charges me $35/week for this service. That’s twice as much per month as Verizon wants for their mid-tier Fios service. When Hassey started doing my lawn, he did so on a handshake, no contract or anything. I asked him how he’d like to get paid and he shrugged, telling me he’d bill me. Which he did, once, at the end of the summer. And guess what? I paid him.

Hassey was able to extend me twice as much credit as Verizon not because Hassey knows me or anything. Not because Hassey ran credit checks on me. Or because I paid him a deposit. But because Hassey knows where I live, because he could stop cutting my lawn if I didn’t pay up, and because even if I didn’t pay up, the risk to his operation is minimal. If only Verizon knew how to think that way.

Back to my call with the supervisor, I told her that she lost the opportunity to gain a new customer. It’s too bad really, I was really looking forward to the service.

Oh, and just in case you think I’m being a little nuts here, I want to let you know that giving your credit report to your ISP is an extraordinary thing. Your ISP knows every website you go to, sees every bit that passes in and out of your home. Matched up to your credit report, your ISP likely knows more about you than anybody on the planet. Moreover, Verizon and Yahoo are refusing to disclose the number of requests that are made through the Patriot Act for information on their customers.

One can only assume that the correlation of one’s credit report to one’s internet usage is required for nefarious purposes, especially since the credit risk to Verizon is so low, especially since they declined my offer to prepay my account and show them a government issued ID. I suppose I’m better off without the service. OTOH, who knows what Comcast has on me. They probably ran a credit report on me before I signed up for Debix. Seems like there’s no winning out there…

 
 

Ordering Verizon FIOS, Part II

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Go here for background.

So I received an email from Verizon telling me I needed to call in to verify my identity. I called in and got a woman on the phone in short order. She explained to me that they needed to verify my identity, and that I was under no obligation to give them my SS#. That was good, so she asked me permission to look at some Experian database to verify my identity. I told her to go ahead. This is where things get interesting.

She told me that I had a fraud alert put on my account, which I do. It’s from the company Debix. It’s a service I pay for to make sure that unauthorized people do not have access to my credit report. So Verizon wasn’t verifying my identity. They wanted to see my credit report. But they wouldn’t acknowledge this. I told her that she didn’t need my credit report to verify my identity, and that that wasn’t the proper way to verify my identity in the first place. I explained to her that I own the property, and that can be easily verified online with the register of deeds by visiting www.masslandrecords.com.

She responded by saying she didn’t have Internet access.

I tried to ask her why my credit card number and billing address, which match the location where service is to be installed, is not enough. She didn’t have an answer, other than to repeat that I hadn’t verified my identity. I asked her why she needed to verify my identity. I tried to explain to her that I spent more at Amazon this Christmas season than I will spend with Verizon in a whole year, and with Amazon I shipped goods all over the country. Yet Amazon doesn’t require my SS# or run credit checks on me. After all, I gave them a valid credit card number, and am able to verify the billing address. She didn’t seem to get my point, but she offered to have a supervisor call me back, which I accepted.

In any event, I recorded the conversation on my iPhone while having her on speakerphone. I’ll post it later. But my guess is I’m not going to wind up getting Fios.