Congress Rediscovers the Constitution

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

Gee, after years of marching in goose step with multiple administrations to gut the Constitution and take away our rights, Congress finally decides to take a stand when the president starts coming after them. Cue Martin Niemöller.

How Tennessee Screws Consumers

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

While surfing the Web to find the exact text of the Tennessee law that requires companies to extend warranty protection for the amount of time a product spends in repair, I found this gem on the website of the Tennessee Dept. of Commerce and Insurance:

LexisNexis Law publishes the Tennessee Code Annotated. This is the only company authorized to publish Tennessee Consumer Laws on the Internet.

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How Tennessee Protects Consumers

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

I was glancing at my AppleCare contract today before I filed it when I noticed this surprising clause:

Tennessee Residents

This Plan shall be extended as follows: (1) the number of days the consumer is deprived of the use of the product because the product is in repair; plus two (2) additional days.

How civilized! Doubtless this is the result of some specific law in Tennessee; but why couldn’t Apple (and other manufacturers and warranty providers) extend this same courtesy to non-Tennessee residents? It seems like the least they could do if we’re losing time due to their faulty products. It would also be a small incentive for them to expedite turn-around and make sure they have an adequate inventory of spare parts.

The Federal Trade Commission appears to have statutory authority to impose similar, though not quite as stringent, requirements on all U.S. providers of warranties and service contracts. However I don’t think they’ve done so.

I’m afraid this is likely a relic of earlier, more democratic state legislatures. I find it hard to imagine the bought-and-paid for legislatures you find today enacting such a sensible and fair provision. Even if one or two did, doubtless the lobby pigs would simply pay the U.S. Congress to preempt stronger state legislation with some nice-sounding bill that promised to protect consumers and in fact did the exact opposite. Still, I’d love to be proved wrong.

Quote of the Year

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006
Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don’t mean the argument over who came up with the word. I don’t know whether it’s a new thing, but it’s certainly a current thing, in that it doesn’t seem to matter what facts are. It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. People love the president because he’s certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don’t seem to exist. It’s the fact that he’s certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?

–Stephen Colbert

Read the rest in Stephen Colbert | The A.V. Club

A Question for Lawyers

Saturday, January 21st, 2006

George W. Bush is a criminal. He has blatantly broken the law in a major way. There is no reasonable doubt about this. He has admitted it. Apparently the lesson the Republicans learned from Watergate was that it’s not the crime that gets you. It’s the cover-up. As long as you freely admit that you broke the law, you have nothing to fear.

There seems to be little chance of him being tried, much less convicted for his crimes. Unlike our last president, he won’t be shamed into appointing a special prosecutor to investigate himself. Congress is in the hands of a dishonest and dishonorable Republican amen chorus that acts as if the only crime worth considering is a Democrat getting a blow job.

So here’s my question for the lawyers: is it possible for anyone else to indict and try the president? If the president has committed a federal crime (and he has) and Congress won’t act, does anyone else have jurisdiction? Can a federal prosecutor, a local district attorney, a low-level functionary in the Attorney General’s office, or anyone else indict and try the man? Is there a lawyer in the house?

Dilbert Blog Jumps the Shark

Friday, December 23rd, 2005

The Dilbert Blog recently moved from its normal humorous focus of pointing out human stupidity to consideration of one of the most basic issues in human rights, the right not to be tortured. Frankly that right’s so basic we usually don’t even state it as such, but Scott Adams think it’s open for debate. However rather than seriously considering it he raises it as a ridiculous, hypothetical question, “would you accept the nuclear destruction of NYC (for example) to avoid torturing one known terrorist?” and just in case anyone calls him on how silly the question is, or tries to fight back with their own hypothetical he adds, “No fair extending my question to more ambiguous hypotheticals.” Then he claims he wins the debate by knockout because people tried to address reality instead of his false hypothetical. I’m not sure if my comment will get through moderation so I thought I’d post a slightly edited version of it here.

Scott, you knocked yourself out with a ridiculous question before the match started. Creating a hypothetical to get the answer you want may help win a debate, but never gets you the truth. If you seriously want to think about torture, you need to consider what actually happens, not hypotheticals. The real question isn’t torturing a terrorist to prevent the nuclear destruction of New York. Asking whether someone would do that is as relevant as the old joke asking whether the Pope should sleep with a woman to save the Church.

Here’s the reality: Al Qaeda higher-up Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi is send by the C.I.A to Egypt to be tortured. To get it to stop he makes up a story about Iraq training Al Qaeda in the use of biological and chemical weapons. We go to war and more than 100,000 people die. That’s not a hypothetical. That happened. It’s still happening.

As to your question of why interrogation works if torture doesn’t, you should probably talk to some real interrogators to find out. For example, according to ex-F.B.I. agent Dan Coleman in in the New Yorker:

Coleman was angry that lawyers in Washington were redefining the parameters of counter-terrorism interrogations. “Have any of these guys ever tried to talk to someone who’s been deprived of his clothes?” he asked. “He’s going to be ashamed, and humiliated, and cold. He’ll tell you anything you want to hear to get his clothes back. There’s no value in it.” Coleman said that he had learned to treat even the most despicable suspects as if there were “a personal relationship, even if you can’t stand them.” He said that many of the suspects he had interrogated expected to be tortured, and were stunned to learn that they had rights under the American system. Due process made detainees more compliant, not less, Coleman said. He had also found that a defendant’s right to legal counsel was beneficial not only to suspects but also to law-enforcement officers. Defense lawyers frequently persuaded detainees to cooperate with prosecutors, in exchange for plea agreements. “The lawyers show these guys there’s a way out,” Coleman said. “It’s human nature. People don’t cooperate with you unless they have some reason to.” He added, “Brutalization doesn’t work. We know that. Besides, you lose your soul.”