Dec 272008

To some degree the current financial crisis seems to have resulted from a world of Warner Brothers cartoon coyotes suddenly looking down and noticing they’d run themselves off a cliff. Things didn’t get bad until we started noticing they were bad.

But I’m not sure everyone noticed at the same time. Almost a year ago I noted that the English newspapers I was reading were full of doom and gloom about the economy. But in the US, there remained a pervasive optimism. Naturally some of that could be due to the kind of naive obtuseness our foreign friends often accuse us of. And the election helped too, energizing us in a way we hadn’t been in years. But I think a lot of that optimism was rooted in something real, something that needs to cultivated and nurtured in order to nurse us back to economic health.

Even after bank insolvencies, market turmoil, and worldwide government scrambles to right the global economy, there remained a sense of normalcy in ordinary society. People who had jobs went to them. People who had friends still saw them. People who had families still loved them. There’s an obstinate inertia in normalcy, and it’s not going to be given up by normal people lightly. Especially when the problems around them seem so far from their own making. Most people are not bankers or finance experts. While many may have stocks in retirement accounts, the markets exist in a world apart from most people’s daily lives.

And yet they will be affected if they fail, even though that failure would be through no fault of their own. As the financiers panic and blanche and pull capital, even the healthiest companies will struggle as they lose either their capitalization or their customers, or both. If enough of these dominoes fall, everyone falls.

It is this very dynamic in fact which is at the root of the current crisis. For too long too much of the financial health of the world has been in the hands of too few people. To recover from the crisis, and to ensure that it never happens again, we must ensure that this schism is erased.

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 Posted by at 8:17 am
Dec 262008

A few weeks ago Gordon Smith at the Conglomerate referenced a proposal floated by Alan Sloan in the Washington Post, which in broad terms basically encouraged a tax on oil to make up for the current dip in prices. Gordon seemed to pan the idea as silly, and indeed, perhaps the way Sloan proposed it, Gordon might right. I don’t care, though, because instead of reading Sloan’s piece I decided to rethink the idea for myself, and in doing so, I’ve decided there’s some merit in such a tax.

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 Posted by at 10:00 pm
Dec 262008

I like London a lot, but it’s been a bad influence.

The London congestion charge, a fee charged to drivers who enter the city center during peak hours, has put dollar signs in the eyes of American politicians who would try to impose a similar scheme in the US, in New York and San Francisco in particular.

Although I’m a firm advocate of mass transit and its ecological benefits, and although I recognize the public fisc must be funded through some sort of revenue generation, my egalitarian notions find these plans abhorrent. Should congestion charges be implemented they will disproportionately tax lower-income people, putting our city centers out of affordable reach of many and turning them into gated communities enjoyed only by the wealthy.

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 Posted by at 2:33 pm
Dec 222008

I have been a very bad fellow blawger not to have acknowledged two previous Blawg Reviews that have so kindly acknowledged me. Kim Kralowec at the UCL Practitioner in her California-themed Blawg Review #183 linked to my infamous Law Crossing is Spamming Me post, and over at the Faculty Lounge, for #184 Dan Filler linked to my grumbles on the California propositions.

Now comes an appropriately festive Blawg Review #191 from Ron Coleman at Likelihood of Confusion, where he explains the theories behind the Miracle of Hannukah, when, as the ultimate example of fuel efficiency, the oil that should have only burned for one day made it through eight. Apparently, according to Ron, my post on the Montana stream access law invoking fish and water is itself Hannukah themed. But I do think Ron may have missed an opportunity not to have gotten all these blawgers together to debate the appropriate English spelling of “Hannukah”… (He’s gone with “Chanuka,” but I have no patience for goyim pronouncing it like “church,” so I usually surrender the gutteral “h” sound and resort to a more phonetic English spelling.)

Meanwhile, in other law blog news, I’m happy to report that the faculty of the Boston University School of Law at last again has a blogger in its ranks. Jay Wexler, whom I vaguely know because I think he judged a practice moot court argument for me, has written a book on famous First Amendment cases involving religion called Holy Hullabaloos and now writes a blog by the same name. I must say it’s so nice to see BUSL finally have a law blogger again. I was starting to think it would take a miracle.

 Posted by at 7:06 am
Dec 162008

The other day I prepared a lengthy post declaring how Twitter doesn’t really do anything for me. Then my ISP had a hardware crash that killed my website, and suddenly it became my only outlet to the world.

So I find myself with mixed feelings. On the negative side, I hate being limited to 140 characters to express my thoughts. I hate that URLs chew up great swathes of those precious characters, and I hate that the limit forces me to suppress my pedantic self and instead employ all sorts of obnoxious abbreviations and acronyms rather than gloriously full spellings in order to economize.

I also hate that Twitter doesn’t really solve the problem I want to solve. I’ve been looking for a technology that would allow me to quickly and easily post interesting links I stumble across through my blog with enough commentary to give them context but without needing to draft a full-fledged essay around them. So far I’ve tried and rejected, and Twitter’s not looking much better either.

But let’s face it, all the cool people are twittering, so might as well give it a try.

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 Posted by at 5:57 pm
Dec 162008

What sort of Huey Lewis lawyer fan would I be if I failed to note the outcome of the recent court case he was involved with? Even the New York Times thought it worthy of a mention.

The Bitterroot Valley of Montana has become home to several wealthy and/or famous ranchers, including the likes of Charles Schwab and Huey Lewis. Their residence has apparently led to an uneasy coexistence between long-time locals and these perceived interlopers, particularly as the new ranchers started throwing up fences around their properties prohibiting the public from traversing them as they previously had. From the ranchers’ perspective such fences were necessary and reasonable, preventing their properties from being vandalized by the trespassing public crossing them to get to Mitchell Slough. From the public’s perspective, however, the fences were illegal barriers preventing their legitimate access to the slough’s fishing. Soon the courts were called upon to decide the question of whether the ranchers could keep the public from the slough, with the Montana Supreme Court just last month finally declaring that they could not.

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 Posted by at 5:38 pm
Dec 132008

Although things have settled down since I began drafting this post a few weeks ago, the blogosphere is surely teetering on the edge of once again erupting with debate over whether one’s legal blogging might interfere with one’s professional development.

Part of this debate centers around the Twitter Wars. Many law blogging enthusiasts are equally enthusiastic about Twittering for many of the same reasons, including that it encourages connections between otherwise isolated lawyers and promotes the exchange of information. On the other hand, I recently met a lawyer on a bus ride home whose opinion of me seemed to rapidly drop when I let it slip that I had a blog. “Well, do you also Twitter?” he ventured skeptically. “I consider any lawyer who twitters to be committing malpractice.”

I’m not so sure that there’s anything inherent to Twittering, or blogging for that matter, that supports such an extreme opinion, although there may also be other downsides, including information overload and network fatigue.

For my part, I have experimented with Twitter and I’m considering renewing my experimentation, but thus far I haven’t found that it (or any other information product) fills my needs the way I want them to be filled (I’m looking for something I can use to publish frequent, short — although not necessarily “micro” — posts through my website without detracting from my regular essays). I do blog, however, because it definitely does fill a need by giving me a place to explore the ideas and I want to explore and say the things I want to say.

But whether blogging itself is good or bad is also again under scrutiny. Not only is there news out of Louisiana that bar rules may (or may not?) effectively forbid the activity, but apparently the Obama transition team is considering people’s past writings when vetting them for administration jobs. While the Obama camp may simply be trying to prepare in advance for any potential political fallout that might result during the course of the nomination process, the unpleasant specter of blog posts being held against their authors may have an unfortunate chilling effect on their inclination to ever blog again. And that would be a shame. Able thinkers should be encouraged to share their thoughts, not *discouraged* for fear that they may poison their prospects for future professional work.

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 Posted by at 5:04 pm