Friday, September 28, 2007

Seinfeld moment: Michigan Can Scam

Re: my earlier post about Seinfeld moments, I feel compelled to post this article about a very Seinfeld-esque can refund scam, busted in Michigan.

"DETROIT -- Authorities said they arrested 10 people and seized more than $500,000 in cash after breaking up a smuggling ring that collected millions of beverage containers in other states and cashed them in for 10 cents apiece in Michigan.
The 10 people were arraigned on charges ranging from false pretense, a possible 5-year felony to running a criminal enterprise, a possible 20-year sentence.
A total of 15 people were named in a 67-count warrant issued as part of Operation Can Scam, Attorney General Mike Cox said Wednesday. Some suspects were members of two smuggling rings based in Ohio and others were Michigan merchants who took part in the scheme, he said."

This all seemed so funny on tv, but a possible 20 year sentence kills the gag....

"Each year, this type of activity defrauds the state approximately $13 million," said Col. Peter Munoz, Michigan State Police director...."A half-million in cash is not 'Seinfeld' humor," Cox spokesman Matt Frendewey said.

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The Center Holds: Netroots overstated

To get into the spirit of the '08, and brush up on the Clintons, I have just been reading Bob Woodward's The Agenda (1994) which covered the early days of the Clinton White House. One of my initial reactions was to be struck by the apparent shift in current Democratic politics away from the centrist rhetoric of the early 90s, the "New Democrats" . In fact, if we were to believe everything in the media (mainstream or blog) we would assume those days were over. My interpretation was that it appeared the Democrats had been enthusiastically adopted their party's opposition to the Iraq war to the point where they would take a stand of opposing most Republican policies, in a pronounced shift leftward (or at least towards populism - e.g. John Edwards), and the centrist was an endangered species.

Not so, according to David Brooks, here in the NY Times. Brooks suggests that:

Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.”

You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups — high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington...In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote...Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead.

This does feel a little like a "emperor has no clothes" moment. The lead Hillary enjoys is now so blindingly clear, that it's almost hard to believe the amount of power that had been credited to the so-called "netroots" blogs and organizations who seemed destined to topple centrist Hillary along with any conservatives. Anyone remember August 2006, and the netroots hysteria surrounding the Lieberman-Lamont primary?

Could it be that the netroots movement may have been, to quote a Democrat of a previous generation, "all hat and no cattle"?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Law firms recruit through YouTube

Following on from the theme of my previous post on law firms and Facebook, here is the requisite nod to the other big internet phenomenon. In this tightly competitive market for legal employment, firms are turning to the video-sharing site YouTube as part of their recruitment strategy. From an article in the Herald Tribune, we learn that:

Several firms are trying to parlay that discovery into a hiring tool, creating recruiting videos and Web sites with the look and feel of YouTube. They hope to persuade students that their lawyers and, by extension, the firms, are young-thinking and hip.

(What is it about using the word 'hip' that automatically proves that you are, in fact, not...)

Brian Dalton, from, is quoted saying that "A lot of them come off seeming like hostage videos,", which is actually pretty accurate from the videos I've seen. The exception being the Choate Hall & Stewart videos, which take of the Mac v PC ads by taking a swipe at the ominous "Megafirm".

Sure, it's not likely that "Megafirm" will come up with a snappy response to these adds, but that's also the point illustrated here. They don't need to turn to these marketing exercises because, for now, they don't have to 'recruit' anybody...

See. 'Old-line law firms join the YouTube generation to recruit students' [IHT]

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lawyers love Facebook

David Lat, in this NY Observer piece, has picked up on something I've noticed recently, namely that lawyers have a heightened appreciation for facebook. Given that Facebook is such a phenomenon, however, it might not seem to be that much of a revelation. But on reflection, I can confidently say that between the my banker and lawyers friends, it is the lawyers make who up the larger quota of "users".

This reminded me of the news that the London firm Allen & Overy tried to ban facebook, but a staff revolt forced them to relent!

"Big Law associates love using the status update feature, especially to complain to other lawyers about their miserable lot. It may also be that these lawyers, whose days are divided into six-minute increments which must be accounted for, yearn to give any status update that is more alluring than, say, “reviewing lease agreements.”"

Too true? But one can only hope that it remains a "partner free space"...

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Belgium's division: European (dis)Union a trend?

Another Belgium break up op-ed piece, this time from Greenway of the Boston Globe via International Herald Tribune.

Greenway hits the right note, nailing foreign discomfort and confusion with the issue:

"Americans are used to the map of Europe being redrawn, but most thought that was just for the former Communist countries of the East. Therefore headlines such as "Political Impasse May Break Up Belgium" come as a shock. We thought Western Europe, especially the little cluster of a half-dozen or so monarchies in the northwest corner, were immune to such turmoil. After all, isn't this the age of European integration? And isn't Brussels the capital of the new Europe?"

Even more interestingly, Greenway nods to the broader theme of nationalist movements in established countries, particularly Scotland, Wales and Quebec.

Since having spent more time living in Europe it has struck me how many separatist movements actually exist. In Scotland, the Scottish Nationalist Party are installed as head of the executive. In Wales, Labour was forced to form a coalition with Plaid Cymru (who aim for Welsh independence). Recently, in this London Times piece, it is even suggested that Northern Ireland may be harboring similar sentiments, given that Sinn Fein is part of the Northern Ireland administration. And of course at the other (extreme) end of the specturm, in Spain there are Basque nationalists, a movement pursued by the terrorist group ETA.

These movements are not always just hypotheticals and political curiosities.
The troubled Balkans, face the prospect of Kosovo's independence from Serbia, a movement the US and EU have agreed to recognize. Unlike the previous examples, this is not mere speculation. President Sarkozy of France has stated that "Kosovo's independence is unavoidable in the long term".

Is this just a series of coincidences, as I suspect, or could it be part of a larger trend of unwinding Nationalism? Are these genuine cultural and historic disputes which cannot be resolved, or are they merely transient reflections of a declining confidence in their national government's ability to recognize their individual identity and local needs?

Regardless, what will be the consequences of a series of international separatist movements in these 'established' Western countries? Would support of local separatists, such as the UK allowing referendums for Scottish independence, create complications in relations with countries fighting their own separatist movements: think Russia and Chechnya, Iraq and the Kurds, even Israel and Palestine.

As always, comments appreciated.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejad @ Columbia: Free Speech or Free Publicity?

Obviously one of the big stories at the moment is the speech of Iran's president at Columbia.
This is being framed as a freedom of speech issue - to censor or revoke the invitation to speak at Columbia would be limiting the freedom to hear all viewpoints, no matter how controversial.

Columbia is being hailed as a champion of free speech. This is missing the point, I feel, because Columbia in fact made two decisions by sponsoring this speech.

The first was to extend the invitation in the first place. The second was to keep the invitation open in the face of criticism and controversy. While the second should be respected. The first must be questioned.

The freedom of speech issue certainly was not the motive for inviting Ahmadinejad - it is the justification for the invitation. What I doubt is the real motive for extending the invitation in the first place. I can only see deliberate provocation in the spirit of self-promotion through public controversy.

I felt my suspicions confirmed when the first headline to emerge from the speech was that the Columbia President, Lee Bollinger, 'slammed' Ahmadinejad (so much for civil debate) in his speaker's introduction - is that more in the spirit of free speech or free publicity?

Free speech would be the issue only if Ahmadinejad had actively sought out Columbia, and the college had stood firm for his right to be heard. Instead, the college appears to have been looking to stoke the flames of controversy. The invitation originally came from the dean of Columbia's school of international and public affairs, and was originally to speak at the World Leaders Forum.

This is my question: why seek out this man to grant him a platform to spread his obviously absurd and hate-filled views? Yes, Columbia has been able to justify its decision to maintain the open invitation on the basis of free speech, but as the Dean of Columbia Law School states:

"Although we believe in free and open debate at Columbia and should never suppress points of view, we are also committed to academic standards. A high-quality academic discussion depends on intellectual honesty but, unfortunately, Mr. Ahmadinejad has proven himself, time and again, to be uninterested in whether his words are true."

Columbia should not be commended for its original decision to extend the invitation, which caused this whole saga in the first place. But its decision, whether for principled motives or not, to keep the invitation extended needs to be acknowledged as the right one.

See: Debate between Columbia President and Law Dean [WSJ Law Blog]

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Follow up: WSJ covers law grads, Loyola 2L

On Saturday I posted about Loyola 2L and the more serious underlying theme of the job market for law grads.

Demonstrating that I have my finger right on the pulse, I see that Monday's WSJ has a full Page 1 story on the issue - including, funnily enough, a mention of Loyola 2L.

Some thank "L2L" for articulating their plight; others claim L2L should complain less and work more. Loyola's Dean Burcham says he wishes he knew who the student was so he could help the person.

You can't help but feel sympathy for the Dean having to fend off the implicit criticism of the L2L gag...

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