Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I've been struck with a severe case of procrastination this morning, I have spent three hours (from 7 am until 10 am) in the library and haven't done anything aside from reading a three page case for Torts class and reading blogs. Argh...I have a draft of a 18 page memo due next Monday and I need to seriously catch up on my class outlines, but I'm not making any progress despite ample opportunity!!!

I think this instance of procrastination is a side effect of a mild cold I've contracted. As colds go, this one is pretty lame, it hasn't ever gotten off the ground and I'm currently limping along with mild congestion and a scratchy throat. But, it's been pretty long lasting; I have had it since at least Friday.

I'm looking forward to taking a nap this afternoon between classes, how sad, to look forward to sleep.

Anyway, tonight I'm attending a showing of a documentary followed by a lecture by two of our professors about a case they worked on, Doe v. Unocal. It should be pretty interesting; it's a case about villagers in Burma bringing a tort action against Unocal in US courts. I should go on a run after the movie, according to my Nike+ipod thing I'm falling behind my goals and need to put in a few more miles...but I probably won't. I'll blame it on my cold and put it off for another day.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My Blog is Boring.

Yes, the first step is admitting it to yourself. So, hi, my name is Matt, and I am the author of a boring blog.

Better blogs than this have gone under when authors with brilliant creative flames have been burned down to blackened nubs. At this rate, given the mild form of intellectual warmth this blog produces, I’ll be able to produce this crap for eons. That notion doesn’t make me happy. So, what is someone to do with a boring blog?

On a basic level, I think I should probably focus a single topic that interests me, aka niche blogging. I guess I could talk about law, but who would want to read that? I could talk about videogames, but it’s much better to play games than write about them? Or, I could blog about my personal life, but then again, I’m pretty dull to begin with?

I’ll give it some thought, and anyone reading this has any ideas, let me know.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Being the smartest guy in the room isn't always a compliment

I finally watched “The Smartest Guys In the Room”, the documentary about the Enron scandal. It was pretty interesting, it didn’t give you much information that wasn’t in the news, but it did give good character portrayals of the major players. What was surprising to me during the scandal, and that I was reminded of while watching the documentary was the complicity of everyone involved. Enron’s officers, the lawyers, the accounting firm (Anderson), and the major-name investment banks all failed to uphold their responsibilities to shareholders and employees (although I bet few people in this group actually thought they had a duty to the employees). No one was asking questions, no one was standing up and saying this was wrong. On a side note, I bet that Accenture Consulting is so happy that they lost that lawsuit to keep the Anderson name, it was a blessing in disguise.

Anyway, the movie brings up that famous experiment by Stanley Milgram where subjects would administer what they thought were lethal levels of electricity to other subjects if they were directed to do so by someone in a position of authority (a Dr, in a lab coat) etc… It is the best explanation of how this type of thing could happen. I’m sure that the lawyers, accountants, and bankers all had questions, but the people at the upper levels were all getting paid and telling them that it was okay; so they went ahead and performed while these obvious questions of where the money was going went unanswered. Authority is a powerful force in behavior, we shouldn’t ever forget this.

Another shocker to me was how involved the traders were in the California blackouts. I had read reports of Enron traders manipulating the energy prices and the supply of energy to jack up the prices, but to hear the recordings of the traders talking about raping the California market and taking advantage of deregulation to steal from grandmothers was appalling. Then again, most of these traders were all under 30, they were hired straight out of the best schools and given million dollar bonuses. At the age of 24-28, these kids were making millions and would therefore do anything Enron asked them to do, they didn't think about the end consumer. I’m not surprised, although I consider myself pretty ethical, I realize that my ethical compass is getting more precise with age and that I’m more ethical now approaching 30 than I was at 24. It’s easy to see how the company took advantage of these greedy, little shits to do their bidding.

In the end, this is such a tragic story for those people who worked for Enron and PSE. People who put in hard, traditional work lost everything – a linemen for PSE said at one point his 401K was at 375K and dropped to around $1,400 – while the executives and traders who did nothing except talk for a living made off w/ millions – sad.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Is Stupidity Good Enough Justification to Recall Sali?

Here another example of that Idaho will elect any idiot with an R behind his name. Bill Sali, Idaho 1st District Representive to Congrees, recently wrote an editorial in Boise's major daily, the Idahostatesman, about the minimum wage. The main crux of his argument is that the minimum wage is bad and that it is unconstitutional.

Now, I’m not going to debate with him if the minimum wage is good or bad. I, personally, am not a huge supporter of the minimum wage, I think that the implementation was a mistake. But it does exist. I would like to see that minimum wage abolished; however, if it is going to exist, than it should at least be a real market minimum. As it is now, I think it is an artificial price floor that is decreasing wages and therefore should be increased; therefore the actions of congress were a much needed fix. I know, it’s a complicated position, but it’s the one I take.

What I will take contention with, is Mr. Sali’s argument that the minimum wage is an unconstitutional extension of power. Uh, hello, Mr. Sali, see Article I, section 8, Clause 3 of the US Constitution. Minimum wages fit into even the most conservative definition of something falling under the term “commerce”. The constitution gives the US Congress the power to intervene, to “regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states…”. If one state were to abolish the minimum wage it could lead to a labor price war between the states and therefore introduce havoc into “commerce” between the states, therefore, labor prices are something that the congress has the authority to intervene into if it wanted to prevent this type of economic condition from occurring. This alone defeats Mr. Sali’s contention and we don’t even need to discuss weaker, but probably just as valid, arguments like the fact that when the constitution was written the word commerce included social conditions rather than strict economic definition it has today and therefore we could argue that founder might have agreed that the minimum wage is constitutional. Moreover, the Supreme Court has already looked at the issue several times during the last century and upheld the constitutionality of the minimum wage several times.

This seems to be a pattern for the legislator from Idaho. He takes an argument, which may or not be valid, and then marries it with crap he just makes up. He is against abortions (which is a valid position) but chooses to marry that to the assertion that it causes breast cancer. He is against the minimum wage (which is a valid position) and chooses to marry that to the assertion that it’s unconstitutional. The result is the he’s a laughing stock, any arguments he has gets watered down with his creative fleets of fancy. Idaho will be the butt of jokes in DC for the length of his term. This kind of intellectual laziness might work will when shooting the shit with the boys back on the farm, but it’s not kind of representation I would have picked for my beloved home state.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Quote for the day...

"Inside me live a skinny woman, crying to get out. But I can usually shut the bitch up with cookies". -unkown.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Eddie Bauer Blues

There has been a flurry or recent new stories about a former employer of mine; Eddie Bauer. The shareholders rejected a sale of the company to private equity firms and the CEO abruptly, after the rejection of the sale, quit. The news of this brought a smile to my face followed by a moment of apprehension. I’m happy because the sale was just another example of inequities in the American economy, yet I’m fearful of the future of the company and friend I have that still work there.

The company, which has struggled as of late, was being sold for a bargain basement price. Yet, the executives and the board of directors did nothing to renegotiate or find a better buyer; they were in full support of the deal. This is to be expected; at least four of the company’s top executives were in line to make off with multi million dollar payouts if the sale had gone through. They had no motivation to look out for the shareholders or the impact to the thousands of employees, their incentive was just to make the sale go through so that they could just cash out and bedone with all the difficult work of trying to save the company.

What was more frustrating to me was that three of the top four executives on this multi-million dollar bonus list were all new to the company. The CEO, the CFO, and the head of legal were not responsible for what value the company had left. During their tenures they did nothing to build the brand, they were not responsible for the stock price (despite how meager it was, it had value because of the name Eddie Bauer). During their short tenures, the company did nothing but loose money. Yet, they were going to walk away with millions. If the rank and file can’t perform and are dismissed, do they leave with cushy packages that represent multiple years of salary and benefits? No. This is a huge double standard in the corporate world. Could you imagine getting a job where you were paid several hundred thousands of dollars a year and, after two years of failing miserably, you would get to quit with a 2 million dollar paycheck for your failure. No. Well, call the current Merchandise officer of the company, she’ll tell you all about it.

It was nice to see the shareholders stand up for a change and reject this deal that was not in their interest or in the employees favor. Eddie Bauer faces some troubles though. It’s has completely lost focus and has strayed so far from the Eddie’s mission when he started his store in downtown Seattle that I don’t know if it can ever recover. The retail space where Eddie used to stand is now saturated with the REIs, the North Face’s, and other outdoor apparel companies. Despite that Eddie Bauer invented the down coat, the badminton shuttle cock, and introduced the Labrador retriever to the northwest; the brand no longer has any more credibility among the outdoor enthusiast crowd. It’s a shame that the company that outfitted the first expedition by a North American team to Mt. Everest can’t even make a decent coat anymore. Whoever made the decision to chase the GAP, Inc crowd in the late 90’s should be forced to gather round and apologize at Eddie Bauer’s grave. I’m worried that without the capital investment, though, and someone to acquire the debt the executive acquired, that the company will soon have to shutter it’s doors. I fear for my former employees.

It's not that I am against executive pay per se. One of my law school peers who is older and, I'm assuming given that he hold several patents on Microsoft Excel, did very well at Microsoft before retiring, was teasing me that someday he would chide me for taking my million dollar payout. I told him that I didn't mind executive recieving large bonsues or getting paid million for the work they do. But, what I do mind is payouts that are completely disconnected from performance. Pay for performance is the mantra that executive live by, they refuse to pay employee unless they perform. Executive dismisse employee who don't perform up to their standard. And these employee dismissed by executive don't get "parachutes". So, I am merely against the double standard.

It's not that I am against executive pay, per se. One of my law school peers who is older ( and I'm assuming given that he hold several patents on Microsoft Excel, did very well at Microsoft before retiring) was teasing me that someday he would chide me for taking my million dollar payout because I was complaining so loudly about this incident. I told him that I didn't mind executives receiving large bonuses, or getting paid millions for the work they do. But, what I do mind is payouts that are completely disconnected from performance. Pay for performance is the mantra that executives preach everyday; they refuse to pay employees unless they perform. Executives often dismiss employees who don't perform up to their standards, and these dismissed employees don’t get similar "parachutes". So, I am merely against the double standard. This is merely a form of corporate welfare. It lives on because the people who have to decide such issues are the same people who benefit from such practices. I also don’t buy the “market forces” argument purported by people like Jack Welch to justify these types of compensation practices. Despite the underlying market forces that drive these decisions, it’s still morally wrong to offer millions to those who have failed, have had to lay off thousands, destroyed careers, and left a wake of destruction. That money should be reinvested in the company and employees. People shouldn’t comply with immoral practices and use the banner of “market forces” to absolve themselves. Okay – off soapbox.

Anyway, if you want to read about such things:

Stockholder Reject Sale
CEO Quits
Executives to Receive Payout if Sale Proceeds.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dream and Aspirations

Well, it the season for job hunting at the Law School, 1L and 2L are feverishly looking for that summer gig and 3L are looking for an actual job. It is a new world for me, for the last five years I been in a very niche line of work, compensation management. Not very many people do compensation, it’s too much like finance to attract people with HR backgrounds and it’s too much like HR to attract people with finance backgrounds, therefore, the talent pool is tiny and the demand is high. After getting into compensation, I never really had to look for a job again. I was recruited away from my first employer, and recently, before quitting and going back to school, I was being swooned by Microsoft.

The law is a very different field, the labor supply is huge and the number of jobs is limited. In Seattle alone, between the two schools, there must be at least 1,000 students looking for work. If you count in students from Gonzaga, Idaho, Oregon and other schools the numbers must grow near 2,000 job seekers. Last July, over 700 people passed the bar in Washington State. If you add in the December bar, I bet there must be somewhere near 1200 new lawyers every year stepping up to practice in Washington!! This scarcity of jobs and the surplus of talent has breed a competitive job frenzy that is slowly driving me and my contemporaries crazy; we are just like so many frenetic piranha jumping at any position that happens to fall in the water. I myself have applied for two clerkships this year and I am going a little nuts waiting for word, a rejection, an interview, anything….after five year of being recruited it feels a little strange to have to be hunting for a position again.

There is, of course, despite the over supply of lawyers, a lot of elitism in the kind of work the students want and will take. Everyone, well nearly everyone, wants a clerkship at a big firm. For a lot of obvious reasons, a big firm is the goal: the money, the prestige, the type of work. All around me everyone dreams of the joining Gates, or Perkins, or some other big name. Law students leave school with a lot of debt and with starting salaries at these big firm hanging around 135K, it isn’t surprising that is where most students want to go. When compared with the public sector, which pays around 35-55K to start, it isn’t surprising that student don’t drool at the notion of working for Uncle Sam. Yet, in reality, there is a lot more choice out there for law students than the mere dichotomy of government work or a big firm.

The majority of law firms in Seattle are small to midsize. The majority of lawyers work for firms ranging from 3-50 lawyers, yet you wouldn’t know that from the talk around the school or the information coming from career services. The problem may be that these small firms don’t have the time and resources to do on-campus recruiting. Further, most law firms don’t advertise, so student don’t know about these other firms in the market, it essential problem of a lack of “name recognition”. You would think that the school would do a better job of directing student’s attention toward these smaller to midsize firms as that is where most of us will wind up, but they don’t. A recent survey from the school to judge our post grad expectations had a multiple choice question to determine our aims. The choices were: large firm, solo practice, government, or in-house counsel. Small firm, midsize firm; these choices were non existent.

Although I wouldn’t pass on working for a large firm, I’m not going to bank all my aspirations on getting an offer from one. I would like the experience, the money, and the ability to start my career strong; yet, I don’t really think my future happiness or success as a lawyer is predicated on getting into a large firm. A recent graduate of a California law school who landed one of these prized large firm gigs in L.A. confided that she is unhappy and doesn’t think she’ll last more than a year or two. Her unhappiness isn’t do to stress or workload, she says, but that the work is boring. With hundred of associates, the new hires get grunt work. The menial hard lifting, so to speak, and that isn’t why she went to law school. Although I have no proof, I am pretty sure the new associates at smaller firms get similar grunt work, but I am also sure they also get pulled into bigger cases and handling more difficult questions that, if at a larger firm, would be tossed to more experienced lawyers. So, happiness and job satisfaction is not dependent on getting that dream job at a large firm.

Now, if only I could convince my fellow student of that.