ethics

Ethics, advice and bros

It’s orientation/beginning of law school time for North American law students (Can./U.S. at least) and things are ramping up to get nuts.  I’ve barely started school and I’ve already had to deal with one ethical issue which I won’t get into and there will be many more to deal with I’m sure.  Dealing with ethical problems isn’t just special to law students and lawyers of course, but so far my legal training certainly makes me think about ethics already and I appreciate it.  I know I’m going to be suffering a lot with all the detailed readings of my core courses soon, so it will help me to think about the big picture: what are the purposes of our laws and what do they say about us as a society?

On a somewhat related note (this is a terrible segue, but I’m going with it), law orientation is great, but I am already tired of hearing unsolicited advice from upper year law students and some professors about how I should operate my life while in law school.  I know most people mean well, care about our success and, hearing the advice once or twice is probably sufficient, but this week alone I had at least 10 people discuss the importance of eating well and exercising, even about regular personal grooming.  I get it – stressed out students probably don’t always prioritize taking care of themselves, mentally or physically. But this week I felt a little bit like I was in a day camp for seven-year-olds, who themselves understand the importance of personal grooming.  Come on guys, it’s law school.  People didn’t bust their butts to get to law school so they could to hear these things over and over.

That said, do not worry upper year students!  Pretty sure soon enough you’ll be able to give advice all the time and hopefully get paid for it, but remember, all of your future clients aren’t likely to be children (not that we should be condescending to them either!).

Also, I notice some ‘broism’ at law school.  Law school has probably always been like that, since the concept of law school as we know it was born. Law still remains a white male dominated profession and is still primarily taught with the so-called Socratic Method (the pros and cons of which I won’t discuss here).  And I get the bro thing to some extent.  Men want to make man-friends. Or as they call each other “bro”, or “bruh”, as in, “Hey bruh, did you see ‘Straight Outta Compton’ yet?…No bruh, gonna check it out this weekend”.  Men should have man-friends, and women should have woman-friends.  But men should also make female friends, and stop ignoring women as if they’re invisible while they are doing their special bro-handshakes to each other.  There is probably some evolutionary-bonding-hunter-gatherer-cooperation explanation for the broism thing. But most people as far as I know, don’t need to coordinate hunting woolly mammoths anymore.

Not all men with male friends do this and I’m not suggesting that.  But for the ones that are making women feel excluded: grow up, because most of your class is female and these women aren’t just there as potential dating material (besides, if you date them, you might get a sexually transmitted infection anyway).  There are also those from the LGBT community, or maybe other cultures, who don’t get what you’re doing. You will have a lot of female and other colleagues who don’t look or act like you, and it is increasingly likely that you will have a female boss.  Excluding women and others just ain’t cool anymore, and remember that the women you’re in class with probably studied and will study harder than you.  And also, one day they just might wipe the floor with you in the courtroom.

Now there’s some unsolicited advice for all of you “brahs” out there.  One day maybe I’ll get paid to give it.

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Discussion surrounding sexual harassment and assault in Canada

There has been a great deal of discussion in the Canadian media about sexual harassment and assault as of late; even The Economist has published an article about the subject.  This discussion stems from formal and informal allegations from a number of women who say that they were assaulted and/or harassed by Jian Ghomeshi, the recently fired host of the CBC Radio show “Q”.  Prior to this, I learned that over 300 current and former female RCMP employees were pursuing a class action lawsuit against the RCMP over issues regarding gender discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Also making headlines these days is the controversy over Justin Trudeau’s suspension of two male Members of Parliament (MPs) within the Liberal Party’s caucus; some are viewing his decision to suspend the Members for personal misconduct as politically motivated — done to gain favor of female voters at the expense of the alleged victims’ privacy.  Two female MPs claim that the two now suspended male MPs engaged in harassing behavior towards them.

I read an article in the Globe in Mail recently about a female journalist who was fondled by a drunk male colleague while at a Christmas party, early on in her career.

Sheila Copps, the former deputy Prime Minister of Canada, also came forward recently explaining that a male colleague attempted to kiss and fondle her when she was starting out in her career as well.

When I learned about the RCMP cases coming forward, I felt that the women coming forward were finally taking a stand to say that their experiences were unacceptable, but I didn’t feel as if the issue received enough attention.  Was it because of Ghomeshi’s “celebrity” status that the discussion surrounding sexual harassment and assault has finally gotten some steam?

Regardless, it is positive that many people are thinking about and dissecting the issue. In particular, there has been a lot of discussion about the importance of how society engages in “victim blaming” when people come forward with allegations, which plays a big role in deterring victims from reporting these events.  People are also discussing the fact that many instances of assault or harassment become a “he said/she said” scenario because there are often no witnesses*.  These two factors compound distress for the victims, and the latter could even create issues for the falsely accused, making for a very complex issue.  Let’s face it though, do women make this stuff up?  With the way society burdens victims and blames them, it’s almost as if we believe that they do.  The most important issue at hand is the under reporting of harassment or assault because of the burden placed on the victims, and how we can better support them.

Better yet, how can we deter potential harassers and abusers from committing these acts in the first place?  This is not a new question, but one solution is for victims to demand respect when formally reporting these events to create a culture more geared to supporting them.  Lately we are seeing women discussing these issues more publicly.  If perpetrators knew there was almost a guarantee of victims reporting I imagine inevitable consequences could be an effective deterrent.  I realize this is easier said than done, however, as part of the male power dynamic of engaging in this type of activity implies that the victim’s will during and after the fact is manipulated by the perpetrator.

All of this said, I hope all of this discourse means that we are at a crossroads where awareness will help us to make systemic changes to how women are treated both in and out of the workplace.

By the way, where is Jian Ghomeshi anyway?  Is he still in Canada?

* I realize that the instigators of harassment/assault are not always men, and that the victims are not always women, but this is frequently the case.

Creativity with Tax Loopholes

I just read an article on Zero Hedge about how a hedge fund company called RenTec made billions using an elaborate scheme involving basket options to avoid payment of federal tax via a tax loophole.  Most of the information in the article admittedly uses jargon and flow diagrams I don’t completely understand, so I’ve tried to make sense of the general idea it is trying to convey here, like I am a six-year-old.

A basket option, according to Investopedia, is basically the same as other options that get traded, except that with a basket option, a holder is able to buy or sell underlying assets, which might be things like commodities, securities or currencies, together as a group.  The way I am interpreting this is, instead of just having apples in one’s basket, there are lots of other fruits like bananas, pineapples, pomegranates and kiwis that can be traded along with the apples.  The price of the whole basket is based on the average prices of all the fruit.  This is good for hedging because if the price of kiwis drops, there are still other valuable fruit to sell in one’s basket.  But I digress.

If I understand properly without knowing all of the details, RenTec was able to use basket options to its advantage by involving large banks like Deutsche Bank and Barclays Bank, both of which had the infrastructure to sell the options, ahem, fruit baskets.  In effect, the banks leased their “buildings” to RenTec so it could package the “fruit” into baskets.  The banks loaned out their “delivery trucks” to RenTec too, so it could deliver the fruit baskets.  The banks just said, “as long as you’re paying us, here are our buildings and trucks, but we don’t want to know what you’re doing with them, even though we actually know what you’re doing with them, but we’ll pretend we don’t, ‘nome sayin’?”. RenTec in turn gave these banks part of its very good profits to lease the buildings and the trucks.

Whatever profits RenTec made from selling baskets to its customers were given to another RenTec dummy “advising” company. After the dummy company took its share, it gave “investment advice” and some control back to the banks (kind of like drug dealers hiding money with “managers”  in offshore bank accounts, but we all know that the drug dealers ultimately control the drug trade…).

Then the basket “packaging/delivery” cycle happens all over again.  Except that in this case, the delivery step happened really fast, like on the order of seconds, so RenTec could sell a lot of baskets really, really fast, because lots of people liked their fruit baskets and wanted to buy a lot of them quickly.   There is nothing wrong with this scheme, except that RenTec was calling the profits it made long-term capital gains when it fact these gains were made in the short-term.  The tax rates on short-term gains are substantially higher.  RenTec instead generally paid the lower tax rate.

This scheme had been in operation since 1998 until 2013.  While the Great Recession happened, these guys were literally laughing all the way to the bank.   I am not quite sure why the scheme stopped functioning in 2013, but I am guessing the heat was on them, so they stopped (kind of like the cops wiretapping the drug dealers in “The Wire”; the dealers have to come up with increasingly more sophisticated ways to deliver their goods…).  So, today there is a U.S. Senate Subcommittee hearing regarding the RenTec issue, but, unlike drug dealers, what RenTec did is in a legal grey area, apparently.

What is laughable is that the U.S. National debt continues to increase like crazy.  The only time the U.S. federal debt has been higher as a % of Gross Domestic Product, was during WWII.  The guy who created RenTec, Jim Simons, happens to be one of the richest people in the world.  I have to give him credit for his tax-avoiding creativity; in developing a scheme which provides absolutely nothing of value to the advancement of the human race.  While his bank account grows, so does income inequality for the rest of us. I also have to congratulate all the lawmakers who can’t seem to keep this stuff under control.  Good job all, and good luck with the hearing!

Cleverly found the loophole, but didn't get any marks for the incorrect answer.

Cleverly found the loophole, but didn’t get any marks for the incorrect answer.

 

Still Unemployed But Not Hopeless

As discussed previously, my most recent attempt at finding employment within the industry in which I was previously working did not pan out.  It is as if the universe is telling me to just stay away from that career path and move on to something else (if I was to believe in fate as the only factor at work of course).  Today it is difficult to change careers without returning to school in some capacity.  Unfortunately, pursuing higher education demands forking out money for standardized testing, and one cannot really avoid this, particularly if one would like to have the option to attend school in the U.S. or Canada.

My partner’s recent experiences at a large, well-funded U.S. university has been an eye-opener in terms of the current state of the academic system.  The employment prospects and practices at colleges and universities for today’s up and coming academics appear to be dismal at best.  There is not a lack of funding for research in the United States, but there is a lack of publicly sourced funding, in comparison to what was available in the past.  Despite these facts, the number of PhDs granted by institutions is on the rise, and it seems that the culture of academia appears to favor a more corporate mentality than ever before, where instead of profit in dollars, growth in terms of number of PhDs granted is academia’s currency.  It would not be in the interest of a college or university to dissuade potential graduate students away from graduate school, now would it?  Besides, there are so many foreign students willing to come to the U.S. for a PhD or postdoc, so why turn away cheap research labor?

Knowing this, I wrote the GRE* anyway because I want to have different career options, one of which would involve research, despite the crappy state of academic jobs these days.  Knowing what I know, I would prepare myself to be able to do research outside the world of academia if I ever did decide to take on doctoral work.

Since we know life is uncertain, and given my continued state of unemployment, I am considering law school also as part of my future career leveraging strategy**. I also know that there has been a decline in those sitting for the LSAT in the last few years, especially in the U.S.  I’ve read that the lower numbers have been attributed to outrageous law school tuition rates, fewer jobs available, etc.  Recently, though, the number of people writing the LSAT has picked up again.  With an improved economy I am sure more work will be available in the future.

All career options have their pros and cons.  Being a Gen Xer coming out of the Great Recession, I have to keep an open mind about the future.  I have to consider what I am passionate about, while at the same time I have to think about what’s practical for me, too.   If I spent my time focusing on the cons of every career option, then I’d probably become a complete nihilist***, but like Rustin Cohle in “True Detective” – I am programmed to survive….

* supposedly ETS, the group that administers the GRE, is a nonprofit organization, but given the rise in graduate students and costs to take the exam, I am sure it cannot be an organization which is hurting for money, nor is it likely that other standardized test administration organizations are either, or the test prep companies for that matter….

** these are not my only motives for considering a career in law.  If they were I would not survive law school, I’m sure.

*** not that there is anything wrong with being a nihilist, but I heard it’s difficult to make a living as one these days…