Quantum Meruit

As much information as you deserve

Month: September, 2012

This Is What Desperation Looks Like

This week’s non-issue invented by Scott Brown because he figures he can’t win without FUD: Elizabeth Warren practicing without a law license?

Well, that all depends on how you define “practice.” And if you define it like every state does, then being a law professor or working for a government agency in a non-legal capacity isn’t practicing. Is that not something they teach at Boston College Law School?


The Paint Is Peeling

When Paul Ryan sprang forth to become Mitt Romney’s running mate, he was touted as an “intellectual” and a “wonk.” This story in The New Republic demonstrates that’s he’s neither of those things. Paul Ryan is smart, but in the way that he knows whom to please. Now that he has to talk to the nation and not just the echo chamber of the Republican cloakroom (and he has to deal with, you know, actual economists), the paint is starting to peel.

Take this PowerPoint (please!). What is it supposed to show on slide 1? Scary debt? Debt isn’t a problem so long as we can pay the interest year over year, which we can. Once again, folks — and we knew this fifty years ago — nations’ finances aren’t analogous to the checkbooks of private households.

On Today’s Episode of ‘Petulant Histrionic Outrage’

“Fox News Host Wants ‘South Park’ Investigated for Blasphemy.”

Wait a minute. I thought the official talking points were to keep talking about the sorry state of the economy. Maybe Todd Starnes didn’t get the memo from RNC headquarters that was faxed to Fox News.

‘Car Talk’ in Reruns

Every time I listen to Car Talk these days, I’m still mystified that Tom and Ray don’t acknowledge that they’ll be going off the air soon. In fact, the only place they acknowledged that they’ll end their 25 years on NPR in October is on their website.

But Car Talk won’t go off the air. It will remain in its vaunted weekend-morning spot, but as reruns. But when those programs air, the Car Talk guys won’t tell you that they’re reruns.

This American Life host Ira Glass didn’t like this idea at all. “We need to make space for new shows, new talent, new ideas. That’s our mission, and ultimately, it’ll be good business, too, to have exciting new shows bring in new audiences,” he said. “And we don’t need Car Talk to shore up audience numbers on Saturday mornings. Thanks to Doug Berman, there’s another public radio blockbuster that’s building audience and loyalty on Saturday mornings right now — Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

NPR’s Vice President of Programming responded by saying that NPR doesn’t want to give up its biggest cash-cow. Nuzum says, in more words, (1) none of the up-and-coming shows Ira mentions would come close to Car Talk‘s ratings in Car Talk‘s timeslot; (2) if Car Talk went away, then so would a lot of NPR money — the same money that’s being used to fund those up-and-coming shows like Radiolab; (3) and, in summary, Car Talk is the most popular public radio program in the world and simply cannot go off the air.

That’s basically NPR’s argument: Car Talk is so popular (read: makes so much money) that NPR can’t afford to take it off the air. Does that mean that Car Talk will never go off the air? Does that mean that Radiolab will never get the shot that the Car Talk guys got back in 1977? NPR doesn’t particularly care; Ira isn’t the one crunching numbers back in Washington, so he can worry his artistic worries all day long. Obviously, the Car Talk decision isn’t about art; it’s about money. Especially during a recession, NPR is undoubtedly concerned about where its next meal is coming from. Why take a chance when we have a sure thing? is what Nuzum is saying.

It’s also insidious that Car Talk itself doesn’t acknowledge that it’s going off the air. Tom and Ray talk about the return of the Puzzler, blissfully unaware that it will be around for only another three weeks. But, apparently, Car Talk routinely sprinkles “old” calls in with new calls to form a show every week. Even though Doug Mayer, Car Talk’s Senior Web Lackey, claims that they’re “not trying to hide the fact that it’s not a new program,” that’s pretty much what they’re doing when they go to the level of re-recording the transitions. They want people to believe that it’s not an old caller. That’s hiding.

Maybe NPR can start saving money by not paying Robert Siegel $342,000 a year to read copy.

Guns Don’t Kill People; Young Black Men with Guns Kill Other Young Black Men

Excellent piece in New York Review of Books by David Cole, writing about gun control. The books he’s reviewing go into an issue never discussed by the NRA (emphasis added):

Like so much else in the United States, the costs of our infatuation with guns are not evenly distributed. In 2008 and 2009, gun homicide was the leading cause of death for young black men. They die from gun violence—mainly at the hands of other black males—at a rate eight times that of young white males. From 2000 to 2007, the overall national homicide rate remained steady, at about 5.5 per 100,000 persons. But over the same period the homicide rate for black men rose 40 percent for fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds, 18 percent for eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds, and 27 percent for those twenty-five and up. In 1995, the national homicide rate was about 10 per 100,000; the rate for Boston gang members, mainly black and Hispanic, was 1,539 per 100,000. In short, it is not the typical NRA member, but young black and Hispanic men in the inner city, who bear the burden of America’s gun romance.

The NRA — which consists mostly of white men — reveres the theoretical right to firearms, but in fact, the consequences of their right fall upon people well outside the NRA’s scope. Perhaps their motto should read, “Guns don’t kill people. Young black men with guns kill other young black men.”

And on another point, which is not within the scope of these books: another specious NRA argument involves automobile statistics. If cars kill so many people every year, why not ban them, too? The answer is: probably because cars’ primary function isn’t killing or injuring others. Aside from hunting non-humans, guns exist only to kill or injure humans. When a car crashes and kills someone, that’s an accident; when a gun kills someone, that’s a feature. (By the way, those young black and Hispanic men aren’t killing each other with hunting rifles.)

TSA Pre-Check: Move Along, Citizen

Here’s a ready example of classism in the United States in 2012: airlines. Have you ever missed a flight and tried to book a standby seat on the next flight? Your place in the line is one factor they take into account when deciding if they can book you. But a much more important factor is the number of miles you have with that airline.

Ethan Zuckerman talks about the TSA’s Pre-Check program and how it uses classism to ensure that the TSA’s ridiculous security theatre will never change:

There are a variety of reasons to be discomfited by Pre-√. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader notes that splitting the security experience into a smooth one for frequent travelers and a harsh one for infrequent fliers suggests that we’re unlikely to loosen travel restrictions across the board. Frequent fliers are the people most likely to complain about TSA procedures and push for reform, and if they’re accommodated separately, political pressure to reduce security theatre is lessened. “The only thing that has developed tolerance for this mass nonsense that is going on at the T.S.A. checkpoints is that everybody is supposed to be exposed to it…. Once that is shattered there is going to be a lot of resentment among those who watch others zip through while we wait and nudge forward and get shouted at to take our shoes off.”

He’s right, which is probably why the two Pre-√ lines I’ve been through are physically separated from the normal TSA screening area – I know I’m getting the light treatment, but the infrequent travelers don’t, and the security theatre is for them, after all. So long as I’m treated well, I have no incentive to lobby for change, and if the infrequent fliers can’t see my experience, they won’t know how arbitrary and unnecessary the procedures they’re going through are. Long security lines could be a source of solidarity, but we lose that possibility when frequent travelers get special privileges. Writing in Salon, Michael Lind takes this argument to an extreme, suggesting that frequent fliers clubs are a way of privileging the rich and reflect the deep inequalities of our society. “Why don’t we just make the new class-based discrimination official? Instead of leaving it to airlines and other corporations to construct the new apartheid piecemeal and informally, let the government issue a Premium Elite Citizen Card, valid for multiple purposes.” I’m far from convinced that treating your most frequent customers well by letting them board an airplane first constitutes apartheid, but I’d agree that blurring a line between a status offered by an airline for frequent passengers to a status that gives you a different experience with a government agency, the TSA, is complicated and uncomfortable.

That’s great, and worth repeating: “So long as I’m treated well, I have no incentive to lobby for change, and if the infrequent fliers can’t see my experience, they won’t know how arbitrary and unnecessary the procedures they’re going through are.” This is why young, middle-class types in China aren’t more interested in liberalizing the place: throw them a job and some creature comforts and why should they care about free speech?

Yes, there are more important things in the world to care about than how long the security line is at the airport. But this phenomenon is indicative of a few trends in the United States:

  1. If you pay more, then rules apply less to you, or not at all. This was how the Clear program worked and it shows how tenuous the “security” argument is. Extrapolate this to other contexts and you can see a pattern: Leandro Andrade gets 25 years to life for shoplifting four videotapes from a K-Mart, but no one on Wall Street receives any type of punishment for destroying millions of jobs and trillions of dollars.
  2. As a corollary to (1), consider that if the rules do apply to you, then use your money to convince the legislature that they shouldn’t. See also Mitt Romney.
  3. With Pre-Check, a background check is being conducted on you to ensure that you’re not going to blow up the plane. Is that really necessary? Sacrificing privacy for convenience is becoming normalized in this country, to the point where advocates of national ID cards are correct when they observe that, if the argument against national IDs is the fear of the government amassing a database of information on every citizen, one need only refute that argument by looking to the quantity of information private companies already possess about us.