Friday, April 15, 2005

Torts of Different Color

There are so many examples of Endtimes for civil society in the news today, I just can't decide which tank to throw myself in front of.

Rosa Parks Settles Her Suit With OutKast.
In case you're one of those sensitive types who'd rather listen to a stranger's cell phone conversations than to rap lyrics, you may have missed the legal flap over the OutKast song, "Rosa Parks." And if you read about the suit that was settled yesterday, you might wonder why the 92-year-old icon of the civil rights movement would get her undies bunched over song that invokes her name only in the title, and contains this allusion in the hook: "Ah ha, hush that fuss/Everybody move to the back of the bus."

Will they be rounding up Pete Seeger and Malvina Reynolds next for singing a song that's now marketed on a kid's album?

If you miss me at the back of the bus
You can't find me no-where
Come on over to the front of the bus
I'll be riding up there

Read the typically obscure OutKast lyrics, which a literate person should only do in extremis, and you might be able to divine that the song is about the music industry. Remarkably, it only refers to "hoes" once, and that to make a false rhyme with Georgetown Hoyas. It also mentions both hemispheres of the brain and reflective thought. As rap songs go, it's pretty high-toned.

So how did this work of art — like it or not — defame Parks and violate her right to privacy? And why would an ancient and revered public figure go after black artists on such a slim pretext? Why would a woman who wants privacy accept a settlement that includes a tribute CD and a television special? And why would a 92-year-old who suffers from dementia give a rip one way or the other?

Well, chances are, as I hope I can say without hearing from Bob Seger's or Johnny Mathis's lawyers, she didn't really initiate the suit and was too feeble to understand what was going on. But some lawyers sure did.

Where's Congressional outrage against frivolous lawsuits like this one? Well, see, this was against a record company, not an insuror, pharma or bank. And it would be unreasonable to expect Congress to craft a law that would prevent this kind conduct by attorneys who see a chance for a buck. That's what courts are for — to sort out the specific merits of a particular case and throw out the grafters and charlatans. And that's another reason we need a qualified and independent judiciary.

Bankruptcy Bill Goes to Bush

I won't get into the details of how most bankruptcies are attributable to job loss, divorce and uncovered medical costs — not to unworthy consumers scamming banks to fund lavish lifestyles — but you can find that and more at Talking Points Memo's special bankruptcy edition.

I just have two questions...

1. Why are obligations of the U.S. government to the Social Security Trust Fund "worthless IOUs," while a credit card agreement is a sacred document?

2. Will the credit card companies be hiring? Surely there will be lots of new collection and litigation work for all those trial lawyers throttled back by Congress's tort reform.

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