#Capitalism As a Force for Change

Despite Sean Spicer’s best efforts, the story of the week has to be the removal of Dr. David Dao from United Flight 3411, the facts for which we’re all painfully aware. This has sparked outrage on both sides of the political aisle (though that’s not to say that people haven’t been able to make a political issue out of it). As such, United Airlines stock dropped $1.4 billion, but it has since recovered considerably. For all of our outrage, it’s possible that nothing will change, and no one will be punished significantly. (Long story short, United’s contract appears to support its right to remove him, and the bodily harm came at the hands of law enforcement personnel, not the airline, so qualified immunity may prevent a civil suit against the officers.)

This particular case, while facing overwhelming criticism, nevertheless results in some difference of opinion on the solution. The only thing we all seem to agree on is that people shouldn’t be bleeding out of their mouths when all is said and done, but the disagreements are why nothing ever changes.

Mutual Funds

I had lunch with a friend of mine yesterday, and the subject of work came up. David is a financial advisor, and of course he adheres to the same principals as most of his industry. He can make your money work for you, he considers it a failure on his part if you run out of money before you die, and all that jazz. What struck me as unusual, however, was something he mentioned that I had never considered, but in hindsight appears to me to be a no-brainer: He leverages your investments to bring about change in corporate cultures. I don’t know how new or widespread this practice is, but it’s new to me.

More likely than not, you lack the power to demand changes in the operations of the businesses in which you directly invest, but let’s say David puts your money in a mutual fund. Collectively, the mutual fund could represent a force that’s hard to ignore. If that force is used to make positive changes to a company in which it’s invested, then that strengthens the investment.  David’s team focuses on mutual fund companies whose stated goal is to be an impetus for change.

To illustrate, David relayed the following example to me. Note well: The primary impetus for change is to avoid naming names in the press, so I’m not going to betray any confidence here. There’s a particular industry in America in which almost all of us are engaged one way or the other. Most of the product for this industry comes from a particular, large region overseas. If you were to think of this industry, you’d never associate it with child and slave labor (it’s not Apple), yet a significant majority of the workforce for that industry is unpaid and/or as young as five years old. If this information got out to the public, there’d be outrage, lost profits, and a weakening of the company stock. From a purely selfish position, everyone would lose, so selfishness doesn’t necessarily prevent positive change.

The mutual fund companies that David utilizes in his practice began negotiations with a major player in this industry to clean up its supply chain. You’ll have to trust me when I say that you’ve all heard the name of this company, even if you’re one of the few that don’t have any involvement in it.  David pointed out that if this information went public (and in the internet age, that’s inevitable), serious harm would come to the company.  The mutual fund and the company negotiated an agreement, which detailed a plan to phase out all suppliers using child or slave labor, and also included opening the industry to suppliers in new regions, one of which hasn’t been involved in that market for over 100 years. By 2014, this company had met its goals for 2016, so they should be removed from any offensive contracts long before their target of 2020.

That’s right. David’s clients were part of a movement which is helping to stop child and slave labor. What have you and your profane signs done this morning?

Is that not fast enough for you? Then I hope you enjoy 10,000% markups on the products you buy, as well as a tremendous drop in availability in those products (remember: everyone uses these products or gives them to someone else). Sometimes it’s not possible to remove oneself from contractual liability any faster, but it’s clear they’re going as fast as they can. Besides, the real point here is that this change is occurring due solely to bedrock principles of capitalism. I’m also not saying that this is the panacea for which we’ve all been waiting, but the approach discourages similar mistakes being made in the future. Perhaps this company will do a little more research on its own before selecting a provider based solely on production costs, or more diligently monitor the directions that its business partners take.

Don’t Change a Thing

Outrage is a necessary part of the process but by itself accomplishes nothing. After outrage, you must actually do something. This also isn’t to say that “regulation” should be seen as a dirty word. The government can do something too, but there must be limits if it doesn’t want to impose serious economic consequences. Either way, I’m not trying to change your political outlook. If you want to hold up a sign and yell, do so. If you want to stay home, do so. If you want, or don’t want, the government to regulate an industry, vote accordingly. I’m just pointing out that I see a slightly bigger picture today, and if you’re an investor, however small time you may be, you have an additional avenue to pursue. If you work for a mutual fund, consider joining this party.

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Categories: Finance, Politics Tags: , ,

My Trip to the ER #hospital #health #medicine #psychology

September 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Ironic, eh?

I rarely see doctors, visit the hospital, or take medication. I don’t even take aspirin for a headache. So, as you can imagine, my visit to the ER last night was more interesting to me than it would be to the average person.

I’m Fine

First, I’m fine, so stop your worrying. I’m always fine … as I’d explain to the doctors later.

Initial Symptoms

I started experiencing vertigo in the morning but did nothing about. (I don’t go to doctors. Remember?) Every now and then, I’d get dizzy, and it wasn’t until the afternoon that I pinpointed the cause. Tilting my head upwards would cause the room to spin. So, in my expert medical opinion, I decided to keep my head titled downward. Problem solved, right?

End of the Work Day

I was the last to leave the office, and no one had any idea I had a problem. Of course, most of my problems are psychological, so no one bothers to look for them. They’re hidden. Anyway, when I sit into my car, I get a blast of vertigo that one shouldn’t ignore. What did I do? I ignored it, of course. (If you didn’t guess that, please start reading from the beginning of this post. You apparently missed some important information in your first reading.)

I started to drive, and in no more than 5 seconds, my right hand and right foot started tingling. Even I know that this is stroke-like, so I said, “Ok Google. Where’s the nearest hospital?” Google pointed me to a couple of wrong places, but eventually I found myself at an urgent care facility. My blood pressure and blood sugar were surprisingly good. I passed the stroke test, so they called an ambulance.


The doctor at urgent care and the paramedic instantly had some tension. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I found it amusing. The paramedic asked me what I do for a living, and I told her I focus on real estate law. For most of the trip, I helped her with a legal issue. Her ex-fiance refuses to leave the house she owns with him, and she asked for advice on what can be done. It’s what I do.

The Hospital

They ran me through stroke tests for the third time in about two hours. Still no evidence of a stroke. My guess is that my stroke symptoms were psychosomatic (i.e., self-induced). I really hate that about people. Even really smart humans like me are ultimately just dumb shits. Without anything to go on, they decided to give me an MRI just to be on the safe side. After all, doctors are afraid of people in my line of work. Better to be safe than sorry. I explained to them, however, that an MRI was out of the question. I warned that the adamantium fused to my skeleton would come flying out of my body causing quite the mess. I’d heal rapidly, of course, so I wasn’t concerned for myself; I was concerned for their expensive equipment and the MRI tech in the blast radius.

Absolutely no one got the joke. No one. How is that possible? I don’t read comic books, but he’s a character in movies everyone has seen. Geez.

They told me to put on one of those gowns, saying I could keep my underwear on. I replied that was a good thing because a butt as nice as mine could end marriages. Obviously, that joke failed too, but this time it was my fault.

So I get into the MRI, and making good on her promise, the MRI tech pumped in 80s music. It was awesome. Because I had to look straight ahead, I took the the time to test peculiarities of human vision, looking at a spot on the ceiling of the MRI and watching how the images in my periphery changed. (I’m weird.)  There’s one thing about which they don’t warn you: My nose began to itch badly, and I couldn’t scratch it.

Final Diagnosis

The final diagnosis is a heavy case of vertigo coupled with make-believe evidence of stroke. And fake brain cancer. I’m pretty sure I have fake brain cancer too. And fake pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Why not? I was given a prescription for some meds and sent on my way. I had to drive to get my meds than get home, but that’s the last I’m supposed to drive until Tuesday.

Apparently, I’m supposed to take a day off from work. I have my first doctor’s note since elementary school! I already feel like I can work, though. I have no symptoms and haven’t taken my meds today. (No, this is not me being me, refusing medical care. The meds are to be taken “as needed.”) It would be nice to use this as an excuse to take a day off from work, but my boss is on Facebook.


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Edit: This is what my Facebook feed looked like. Hmmmm….


#SCOTUS Opinion: Rescission and the Truth in Lending Act #TILA #law #jesinoski

January 15, 2015 7 comments

A recent Supreme Court opinion interprets a provision of the Truth-in-Lending Act (“TILA”) favorably to borrowers. Most borrowers are aware of the three-day right of rescission: For most federally-insured mortgages on a primary residence, the transaction isn’t considered effective until three business days after the closing (i.e., the signing of all of the final loan documents), as the borrower enjoys an absolute right to rescind the loan. However, there’s another type of rescission available under TILA, and that’s what was at issue in the case. Lenders are required to issue certain disclosures to potential borrowers prior to the actual closing. This reduces the ability of the lender to surprise a borrower with hidden fees. If the lender fails to make the required disclosures, the borrower has three years to notify the lender that he wishes to rescind the loan.

The question before the Supreme Court in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. was whether the borrowers were required 1.) to file a lawsuit within three years, or 2.) merely notify the lender in writing of their intention to rescind. The trial court and Eighth Circuit sided with Bank of America, but the Supreme Court reversed. In an uncharacteristically short, five-page opinion, Justice Scalia pointed out that the language of the statute required merely notification and not the filing of a lawsuit. Bank of America claimed that cases where disclosures were missing should be treated differently from cases where, as in Jesinoski, the disclosures were made but their sufficiency was questioned, inferring such a distinction from a neighboring subsection of TILA. The Court was not convinced, noting that while Section 1635(g) allowed for the possibility of a lawsuit, it didn’t have any language requiring one.

It’s a shame that the borrowers in this case were required to fight all the way to the Supreme Court to enforce a statutory provision that clearly allows them a practically cost-free means to do so, but at least you won’t have to fight so hard if you find yourself in their position.

For more on the Court’s opinion, you can read it here.

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Categories: Politics

Injury Time Out: Breaking Bad, Season 1 #netflix #breakingbad

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m bedridden (sort of) this weekend. So, I took advantage of my new Netflix account and watched a bunch of video. Among that video was the entire first season of Breaking Bad. It was pretty good, but not yet “the greatest show ever on TV.” It’s also not what I expected. Most of the first season was about coping with cancer rather than cooking meth. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just an observation and not what I expected.

There’s one glaring issue I have with it, and this is a spoiler, so you should stop reading now if you, like I, plan to start watching this show after it’s gone off the air.

It seems like Walter White has a strange sense of pride. He’s too proud to take money from his rich friends, but not so proud that he won’t become a major meth dealer, harming the public and risking losing everything for his family. I think I get it: Walter doesn’t want to inconvenience any of his family or friends over something that can’t be fixed, but again, Elliott wouldn’t even notice the missing money. Personally, I’d take the pride-bullet on taking money from someone who won’t miss it rather than risk spending the last few months of my life in prison. How would that be good for his wife and kids? It seems like taking Elliott’s money is an easy fix with no noticeable post-death consequences. The problem is avoidable.

Yeah, I know that you’re thinking. “But Rob, then we wouldn’t have a TV show!” Yes we would. The writers chose to place this into the storyline. All they’d need to do is leave it out. No one would have noticed, because not too many people have a super-rich friend. From a “meta” standpoint, the problem is also avoidable.

Despite my nitpicking, this is a pretty good show, and from what I understand, it’s going to get even better.

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Injury Time Out: Dr. #Strangelove #movie #Netflix

I’m on bed rest for the rest of this long weekend due to a strained calf. I’ve had this injury before, so I’ll be fine. In my free time, I’ve decided to take advantage of my new Netflix account and watch some stuff I’ve missed. First up: Dr. Strangelove.


I’d heard that Dr. Strangelove was filmed to fool one of the primary actors (Edit: It was George C. Scott) into believing it was a serious film. The actor didn’t want to do a comedy, so Kubrick said he was filming only a few comedic scenes to keep the actors from going stir crazy.

It shows.

The attempts at humor were too few and far between,  and some of those attempts failed (or at least failed to stand the test of time). Because it was effectively a half-assed attempt at each (i.e., comedy and drama), it failed at both. Sure, it had its moments, and it’s fodder for pop culture references, but overall I could have done without it.

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Categories: Politics Tags: ,

#Political Thought of the Day

April 24, 2014 1 comment

We’ll never vote out the bastards as long as we vote for people solely based on whether they have a ‘D’ or ‘R’ next to their name. If you’re going to vote on a single qualification, it should be on character, which is not party-dependent. It’s also not dependent on whether someone says, “fuck,” or ever went to therapy. All of us do things like that. Those that appear not to do these things are just good at hiding it. Don’t punish people for stupid things. Try to elect a peer, not an ideal. Ideals are make-believe.

It’s too bad no one is really listening to this.

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Categories: Politics Tags: ,

#Overstatement and #Politics

Let me first say that I’m not a psychologist, so it’s hard to take my own anecdotal experiences too seriously, and my presumptions as to why things are the way they are should be taken with a grain of salt as well. That being said, I’m pretty smart, I’m an attorney, I’m constantly studying constitutional law and actually reading court holdings that involve constitutional principles, and have a decent amount of professional political experience, so I shouldn’t be dismissed either. Within that context….

Every day, social media lowers my faith in America more and more. The most important way in which it does so is in showing me how people approach the extremely important field of politics. I don’t vote anymore and generally don’t offer my insight publicly because none of you seem to be listening anyway. Your approach to politics has actually had an impact on me, and for the most part, I’ve given up trying.

Most of you will infer a tremendous amount of arrogance in that statement, but that comes from either your own insecurity or your assumption that I think like most people. So, let me make a few things clear. First, I don’t think like most people. That should be as painfully obvious to you as it is to me. Second, I know full well that I don’t have all the answers. I can’t say that my views are objectively correct. Even where I really know the topic, there are many others that do too, and they disagree with me. Third, I’m not frustrated by your substantive views — where you stand on gun control, treatment of homosexuals, abortion — but rather on how you approach others on these issues. It’s by one of those tactics that I’ve been inspired to write today.


Otherwise known as the “Underdog Argument.”

Everyone likes to overstate their arguments. I suspect the reason for that comes from one or both of two places. First, overstatement is used to make the problem seem bigger than it actually is. This way, you can improve your self-image by seeing yourself as dramatically saving the human race from itself. For example, recycling is important because of its economic effect. It’s also important because failure to recycle will eventually leave us without resources that will eventually dry up. What if I were to say, “I support recycling, and if we don’t do it, the Earth will split into two, and we will all be thrown out into space … tomorrow afternoon. No worries. Here I come to save the day! I must be important, because if it weren’t for me, we’d all die.” I’m sure I’d feel better about myself if I could actually convince myself that were true.

Second, overstatement is used to avoid a domino effect. For example, I’m a strong supporter of gun rights, which are constantly being attacked by legislative efforts and media assaults. (That’s okay, media; it’s freedom of speech and the Press. Fire away, so to speak.) What if, in order to protect the rights I see as appropriate, I supported the rather insane proposition (as some do) that a 12-year-old has the constitutional right to buy a gun at a gun show? Needless to say, as long as we’re fighting over that issue, my rights as an adult wouldn’t be touched. That’s great, except that now kids are buying guns. Even as a gun rights advocate, how can I seriously think I’ve made things better for America? Fight the battle that’s worth fighting. Every issue has an extreme view where it’s dangerous to go. Don’t go there.

Are You a Liar?

Still hoping.

In the end, overstatement is a form of lying, and in this case, you’re lying about things that are very important. Your lies hurt others. Don’t you think it’s about time you stop hurting people? Even assuming you have the right to say your substantive views are 100% objectively correct — a most arrogant position — do the ends justify the means? Do you have so little respect for democracy that you feel you have the right to impose your views on others by misleading them? It sounds to me like you’re guilty of what you might (rightfully) criticize the media for doing. How are you any better than they? In fact, if this weren’t the way you thought, the media wouldn’t cater to it.

I’m making a wish for honest debate. Please join me.

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