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A Necessary Delusion - Shadow Hand

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Comcast Admits Its Fee Increase Is Basically Just Fraud

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If you've ever signed up for a cable package, then you know the standard procedure. You pick out the cheapest plan that has all the TV channels you want and will still allow you to play whatever your favorite video game is, and then you sign a contract locking you into that price for a year or more. Then, if you have Comcast, you put the fucking lotion in the basket.

It's no secret that Comcast has a horrible reputation for both its product and its customer service. This winter, it also drew criticism for surreptitiously increasing its prices in the form of increased modem rental fees and "broadcast fee." The "broadcast fee" is what you pay Comcast in order to get the broadcast networks that are provided free to anyone with an antenna. This fee actually does make a bit of sense. Even if the product is out there for free, the networks could still charge Comcast for the right to use it. We're going to give Comcast the benefit of the doubt on that one, not that they deserve it.

But the modem fees, oh boy. If you have Comcast, then sometimes in December or January you'll remember having a service technician come to your home and provide you with an upgraded modem. What, that didn't happen?

But the modem rental fees many people pay went from $8 to $10. Surely they got a next gen modem. What else could explain the fee increases? Surely Comcast can't just charge you more to rent the exact same equipment. What explanation could their possibly be? We asked. Here's a bit from an online support chat transcript (click for full size):

No, we do not understand.

 

If you'll recall, when you get your cable package you sign a contract, and that contract locks in the price for your service package. That service package is your set of television channels and your internet speed.

What Comcast has done is improved its TV programming offerings and increased its internet speeds (or so they say). That's an improvement to the service package, but the service package has a fixed price. Since Comcast can't change that, it just puts the $2 service package increase in its modem rental fee. If you had an $89 TV/internet package and an $8 modem, what you now have is a $91 TV/internet package and an $8 modem, but with Comcast lying to you about what the fees are for.

Now we may just be a bunch of simple drunk country lawyers, but we're pretty sure that what we've got here is a case of fraud. Or more specifically, false pretenses. If our bar review notes are correct. A defendant is guilty of false pretenses if he:

(1) knowingly

(2) makes a false represenation

(3) of a material fact

(4) that causes the victim to pass title

(5) to the defendant

(6) with the intent to defraud the victim

The fact that Comcast gave the script to their customer support shows they knew what they were doing. Calling it a modem fee increase seems to be a false representation. What you're being charged for looks to be material. The bill causes victims to pass title. To the defendant. And again, Comcast knows what it's doing, so there seems to be the intent to defraud.

While your local PD isn't likely to lock up the Comcast CEO, enough complaints to the FTC might do the trick. Here's the link to file an FTC complaint. Let them know that despite putting the lotion in the basket, Comcast still decided to hose you.

New York acquires machine guns to counter protests

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In response to the anti-police brutality protests that followed in the wake of Eric Garner's death, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has decided to create a new Strategic Response Group. The SRG will consist of 350 officers, armed with assault rifles and machine guns. Yes. Machine guns. To control protesters. Here it is straight from the mouth of Bill "Blood-n-Guts" Bratton:

It will be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and the machine guns that are unfortunately sometimes necessary in these ­instances. [New York Post]

Sometimes necessary! We here at Con Daily must have really slacked off in our high school US history classes, because we can't think of a single instance when police at a protest needed machine guns. Maybe Stormin' Bill Bratton has something like the Kent State anti-war protests in mind. Those national guardsmen only fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds. A single M2 Browning fifty cal machine gun can get off well more than 100 rounds in the same amount of time.

Bratton later clarified that he had misspoken when he said the new heavy weapons would be part of protest control. The weapons would go along with CRVs, critical response vehicles, and not the SRGs, which are for protest control. [Newsday] That's more reasonable, except for one tiny little gap in Bratton's reasoning...

When have machine guns ever been necessary in domestic counter-terrorism? If only there had been some more CRVs on the streets of New York, those planes wouldn't have hit the World Trade Center.

Fans of Battlestar Galactica will recall Commander Adama's response to President Roslin when she asks him to use the marines as a police force:

There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

Nevermind that it would have been more clear to say "then the people tend to become the enemies of the state," most people still get the point. Huzzah context and all that. What we're seeing in New York and other cities is essentially the same thing being run in reverse. The police are increasingly taking on counter-terrorism effort -- that is, they are fighting the enemies of the state.

It's a very delicate situation, and while it is possible to strike the right balance, we don't have a ton of faith in a police commissioner who occassionally confuses his department's crowd control duties with its counter-terrorism efforts.

Why Is Law School Transparency Lying About Tuition?

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Brave professor Assistant Dean of Admissions Steven Freedman of Kansus University (60.1% Employment Score) has bravely posted this brave and bold message about the horrors of Law School Transparency's viscous and false tuition data:

Did you know that Kansas Law charges $21,173 for in-state, resident tuition? That Iowa Law charges $51,864 for non-resident tuition?

[...] Well I hope you don’t know any of that, because all of that is grossly inaccurate. In fact, here at Kansas we posted our tuition rate of $19,985 in July 2014. Iowa Law has made available its $41,296 annual non-resident tuition available for a similar time period.

[...] I understand that if you dig deep into the webpage, you can see what LST was doing here. On the Iowa “costs” webpage which is tailored to the Class of 2013, when they say “Non-resident Tuition: $51,864”, they don’t actually mean that’s the tuition for U. of Iowa for the Class of 2013. If you carefully move your cursor to the very tiny and easy to miss “?”, you will see that that figure is an estimate based on the prior year’s tuition in relation to tuition growth during the five years prior to the current year (2008-2013 instead of the more timely 2009-2014). Took me a number of visits to the LST website before I figured out that “tuition” doesn’t necessarily mean tuition on the LST webpage, it often means a guess at what tuition might be. Which, again, is a bit strange considering the actual data is freely available. Isn’t this the same kind of sleight of hand that LST has accused law schools of doing?

A just question, Professor Ass Dean of Admissions. However, mere words cannot clearly articulate just how deceitful LST's tuition data is, so we're providing this screen cap of KU's costs page:

(Click for full size)

 

Oh... well. Hmmm. We've got a question. What exactly does Mr. Freedman mean by "I understand that if you dig deep into the webpage, you can see what LST was doing here"? Generally, that phrase "I understand that..." is used to mean, "I haven't actually checked for myself, but..." Why not just look for himself? If he had, he would understand that the very first thing you see is the school's published cost of attendance (it's older data, because LST updates based on ABA information, rather than continuously checking all 200+ school websites for updates). You have to dig deep (below the fold) just to find the information Stevensman is complaining about, which is in a table that is rather clearly labeled as being a hypothetical projection. And the disclaimers are right there.

So, in order to get the information Freedman is so upset about, you'd have to close your eyes, start digging, and then stop digging at the exact right spot. What a wonderful innovation. We're going to give the Steven Freedman Digging Technique a try and see what we come up with from his post:

Did you know that I hope you don't attend law school? Which is another way of saying law school is a product of a bungled ABA.

Wow! Did you know a law school assistant dean of admissions said that!? See our application of Freedman's digging technique below. It's just amazing what you can get when you dig for exactly what you want and ignore everything else around it.


Did you know that Kansas Law charges $21,173 for in-state, resident tuition? That Iowa Law charges $51,864 for non-resident tuition?

Well I hope you don’t know any of that, because all of that is grossly inaccurate. In fact, here at Kansas we posted our tuition rate of $19,985 in July 2014. Iowa Law has made available its $41,296 annual non-resident tuition available for a similar time period. As for the federal direct loan interest rates, the Department of Education posted the correct interest rates for student loans way back in May 2014 (between 5.41% and 7.21% depending on when the first disbursement occurred). So you would think a webpage that estimates how much it costs to attend law school for the Class of 2013 would use these published figures. Well, despite this data being freely available and very easy to find, Law School Transparency does not use this information when calculating their cost of attendance estimates. Instead of using accurate, available data, they rely on projected estimates for law school tuition and for federal loan interest rates, which is another way of saying they’re using guesstimated data instead of real, available data. As a consequence, their estimate assumes Iowa students are paying $51,864 when we know they are paying $41,296. Not surprisingly, this error causes LST to significantly over-estimate the cost of law school. This is not specific to the entry for Kansas or Iowa, they have used the same method for all 200+ law school entries on their website.

[...] Listen, I like Law School Transparency. I think they’ve been effective pushing law schools to be more accurate and transparent in their reporting, and that’s a good thing. And I suspect this is a product of a bungled, confusing webpage and a failure to make timely updates, rather than some devious plan to mislead the public. [...]

LST presumably knows these numbers are wrong, which raises the question as to what is LST’s duty to correct the record? As Ben Barros posted last week, followers of LST organized to update all 200+ ABA accredited law schools’ wikipedia entries with tuition and employment information based on LST’s faulty numbers. Will LST correct its own website? Will it encourage its followers to correct the Wikipedia entries?

2015 State of the Union Drinking Game

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For the 2015 State of the Union Drinking Game, we're going to go in a slightly different direction. Traditionally, you have a list of word and when the POTUS says one of them, you drink. Well, in our first ever SOTU drinking game we had "Sputnik" on the list. He said it twice. And it's been downhill ever since. You either go for the obvious ("Syria," "Immigrant," "Taxes," and "Unarmed) and drink constantly, or go for oddball phrases and drink almost never.

So what we're going to do this year is drink every time the president lies.

In 2014, he lied at least twice.

He said we cut our pollution more than any other country on earth, when if you go by proportion cut (as you have to do in national comparisons), we were beat by 6 European countries.

He also said "You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work." Yes, women earn less, but it's not because they're paid less for equal work. On its own, the 77 cent stat is misleading, but put next to an equal pay for equal work claim, it rises to the status of a lie.

Maybe we're not gearing up for the more drinking-packed drinking night, but it's Tuesday, we're getting old, and at least we get the fun of shouting "You lie!" at the screen before doing a shot. Now moving on to the good stuff, here's what we're going to be keeping our eyes on tonight:

Pay gap, obviously. Also, Wisconsin repealed a law that gave women equal treatment at work. Eh, not really. Equal treatment was overdetermined, meaning there was already another law in place to that effect. The law that was repealed didn't really do that.

Lowest number of illegals attempting to cross since 1970. We have record low apprehensions, but do not necessarily know about the number trying to get across. In 1970, there were fewer agents and physical barriers. We don't have a very good idea how many people were trying to get across in 1970, so any claims to that regard is a lie.

Obama's executive orders on immigration are the same "kind" of action taken by previous presidents. While past presidents have used executive orders to deal with immigration issues, they have not done so to the degree Obama has, and in this case we think the difference is so great that it becomes a difference in kind. All presidents have hosted parties in the White House also, but if you throw a kegger with gambling and strippers, it's not the same kind of thing past presidents have done.

Hasn't changed his position on use of executive authority. Basically full flip flop here.

Keystone would ship oil primarily to other countries. We'd actually be the primary buyers.

Keystone would only produce about 2,000 jobs during construction. It'd actually have on average about 10,000 at a time, though mostly short term. In terms of annual jobs (adding up short term gigs to make full years) it's about 4,000.

Created more jobs than all other advanced countries combined. Nope. More than the G7, but not all advanced countries.

US is the only developed country without paid maternity leave. False. We're the only one without government mandated paid maternity leave benefits. Many companies offer paid leave of their own accord. Those of you working in BigLaw may recall there was a bit of a maternity leave arm's race not long ago.

We're one of the largest Muslim countries. Nope. CIA World Factbook says there are only about 1.8 million Muslims in the US, placing us at 58th world wide. Even using the very high end estimate of 8 million, we'd still be 32nd.

Most young people did not have health insurance. It was actually about 25%.

1 in 4 college women raped. An oft debunked fact that's based on a very flawed and outdated study, and absurd on its face.

And of course, look for some claim about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We still have troops deployed; about 3,000 in Iraq and 10,000 in Afghanistan. And sure, we still have troops in Germany! But, there's peace in Germany. We'll believe Obama's ended the wars when peace gets there or we get out. Until then, any comment about the war on terror is likely to be insufficient to really explain what our military is involved in. And that's getting to the core principle with which we'll judge presidential lies: the burden is on the President. Technical truth isn't enough. He's not a witness being crossed examined who's allowed to answer with as few words as required. He's picking what to talk about, and that comes with a higher standard.

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