Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wall Street Cliches

I came across this Wall Street Journal rundown of all those lovely Wall Street cliches and other musings that many financial journalists hear so often. My favorite answer by some lazy brokers was stuff like: "The market is up because there are more buyers than sellers..." (No D'uh). This article goes through some more sophisticated items, like the "Dead Cat Bounce" or "Buy the Rumor, Sell the News".

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Kwasniewski on John Paul's Sainthood

Here's a little morsel of news I had seen before but didn't get a chance to mention in the blog: Poland's outgoing president Aleksander Kwasniewski(also a former communist) has been testifying in the beatification procedure for John Paul II. This is bizarre on all kinds of levels. I'll leave it at that.

And, oh by the way, today is Kwasniewski's last day in office. Wonder how extensive his campaign for the top UN post will be now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Law School - First Semester Survived

I haven't discussed law school much since starting the blog, but now that I have survived the first semester mostly intact, I guess I could share a few thoughts about it.

First, I'm loving a great part of it. Don't laugh, but I enjoy reading cases, thinking about "the law" and learning about new ways of thinking. It definitely feels like intellectual boot camp a lot of the time and the first semester, they say, is the roughest. But still, I am glad I decided to go back to school.

Having said that, I am afraid I peaked a little too early and the last month was rough. I did lose some interest as the avalanche of reading built up. I did stay on top of the daily stuff, but did not do enough studying and preparing for finals. And when they did come around, I had to rush with my outlining and studying, cramming a lot of it into the spaces between exams. Next time, I hope to get a quicker start on this, possibly even at the expense of some of the heavy daily reading.

This might sound silly, but I set myself a goal of going to every single class and I achieved it. OK, with one exception for the legal writing class, but that doesn't count... (The goal was a result of the fact that I skipped way too many classes back in college). Anyway, I think that helped with the understanding of the material, but I admit that going to some of the classes was marginally useful and I may hesitate a little less about skipping when needed next time. The goal is still there, but I may be a little more "flexible".

See, for law students it's all about the grades. Most people do want to learn, but that A or B is still the bottom line. So, if anybody out there is looking for tips, do read all those professional outlines and other study aides. They do help and I should have started that earlier. Again, at the expense of the reading. Do read the cases, but be wise with your time.

Finally, I met a lot of fantastic people at school. New friends and other acquaintances with a lot of interesting backgrounds. This is also the advantage of moving around once in a while (with the disadvantage being, of course, having to leave them behind after a while). You don't want to close yourself only within the law school community and I am happy that I did meet some nice folks who have nothing to do with the law in Chicago, which itself is a great town.

Talking about friends. I did neglect many old ones, especially in the last few weeks as the finals began to loom over the horizon. I am sorry for that and I hope to reconnect in the next few weeks.

I am scheduled to do the first year at the law school and then move on to journalism school for a while before going back into the real world. So, unless things change, I have one more semester on the law side and I plan to enjoy this one too. Weird.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

UN-Presidential: Kwasniewski Pardons Party Buddies

Poland's outgoing president Aleksander Kwasniewski has pardoned two party buddies, including a former deputy interior minister who leaked information of an impeding police raid to people close to local gangsters. Instead of 3 1/2 years in jail, he gets a one-year suspended sentence. The other pardoned official is Kwasniewski's former chief of staff.

This has caused quite a controversy in Poland, and rightly so. Pardoning cronies is an awful way to stain a legacy which did include overseeing Poland's entry into NATO and the European Union. One would think (and hope) that this may also complicate Kwasniewski's plans to be one of the candidates to replace Kofi Annan atop the UN next year.

Despite his communist past, Kwasniewski remained a popular politician, even as his party friends sunk under a wave of corruption scandals. When he was running for reelection five years ago, I remember visiting my grandmother, who had the pictures of Pope John Paul II and Kwasniewski on the top shelf in the living room. But then she saw one of Kwasniewski's aides poking fun at the pope and the president's picture ended up on a lower shelf. Well, Grandma, after this pardon mess, I think it's time to take the photo down completely.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Death for Deaths? Execution of Crip Founder

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote a short, yet poignant column on the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams, the co-founder of the Crip gang, which has left a trail of blood in California and elsewhere. The man did shotgun four people to death, but should the state stoop to his level through execution?

"[Williams's] legacy is terrorized neighborhoods and a chorus of weeping mothers. His anti-violence books and speeches were too little, too late, and the mythologizing of him was as unconvincing as the Nobel nominations. But his execution was a macabre spectacle in a nation that preaches godly virtue to the world while resisting a global march away from the Medieval practice of capital punishment."

Well said.

"Beef Panties" and Other Top Corrections of 2005

Here's an interesting list of some of the top corrections and typos of this year. There's "Jew Jersey" in the Denver Daily News and the wonderful typo "beef panties" from my former employer, Reuters. Mostly funny stuff, even if we are laughing at other people's errors (and believe me, I had my share).

By the way, Reuters runs this thing called The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, which shows readers comments to stories and photos with editor responses and some corrections. Worth a look. Thankfully I don't think I ever made the list, especially on the last two points.

Talking about corrections (or bad and ugly), can I do my Civil Procedure exam over??? Not that I'm obsessed or anything. One more to go and then I'm home free.

Martial Law in Poland - 24 Years After

I was talking with my law school buddies on Monday (after a disastrous Civil Procedure exam) about schools canceling classes for snow days. And then I recalled getting days off from school after the introduction of Martial law in Poland back in 1981. And I didn't even realize until later that today is December 13! Wow, so 24 years ago I was thrilled to get a few extra days off from school as tanks rolled into the streets to put down Solidarity (forgive me, I was only a seven-year-old then). I don't remember much, but along with the tanks I do remember newscasts read by "journalists" in uniforms. Wow, nothing like living in a communist country.

And here's an unfortunate statistic. According to Polish papers, more than half of Poles don't remember when Marial Law was declared and nearly half of those who do remember December 13 think that it was the right move. The propaganda that the Soviets were ready to roll in seems to be growing stronger with age. These must be the same people who in another poll last year chose communist leader Edward Gierek as the most popular Polish politician over Solidarity hero Lech Walesa. OK, so Walesa didn't do himself any favors as a president in the early 90's, but come on...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Schroeder Gets Paid with Gas

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder seems to be coming out just fine after (barely) losing the elections earlier this year. The man who was one of the strongest critics of the U.S. and probably the biggest European friends of Russian president Vladimir Putin, gets rewarded with a post as the head of the shareholders committee of the gas pipeline that conveniently circumvents Germany's eastern neighbor Poland. So Gerhard gets the prize and Poland gets punished for standing up to its bully neighbor to the east.

Something stinks here, especially since Schroeder vigorously lobbied for this pipeline when he was the chancellor. He might regret this, however, because getting in bed with Gazprom and the rest of Russian gas interests may not be the cleanest arrangement.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Big Snow, Jet on the Highway

Wow. Just had the first big snow storm of the season with as much as 10 inches of the white stuff falling in some parts of the area. And the snow likely caused a passenger plane to skid pass the runway at Midway Airport, ending up on a highway. What a day. Good thing I'm flying out of O'Hare next week.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Chicago Goes Smoke-Free!

About Time! Chicago is banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Great news. Nothing can ruin a dinner on the town like having a smoker puffing away at the next table. Sure, bars will get extra time, but it's still great that soon enough I won't smell like an ashtray when I come back after hanging out with some friends at the local Irish pub.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Saddam: No Clean Underwear Is Torture

I accidentally came across this article in The Sydney Morning Herald, which points out the incredible discrepancy between the worlds of Saddam Hussein and his victims. At his trial, the nasty former dictator had a problem comprehending the pain he had caused his own citizens during his iron grip rule of the country. Instead, he thinks "no underwear, no chance to take a shower and no chance to smoke a cigarette" is terrorism. And he has the nerve to say this while listening to witnesses tearfully recount rape and murder under his rule. Now he decided to boycott the court and told everybody to "Go to Hell!" Sorry, Saddam, the world no longer revolves around you and your underwear.

One of my fellow law students said yesterday that he's "proud" of Saddam for standing up to this "illegitimate" court. Now I'm not sure whether being tried for crimes against humanity is less legitimate than being tried by some foreign judges at The Hague. I would, however, say this is the best way to spotlight the monstrosities caused by Saddam and I wish the prosecution would have started with the most serious crimes. Nonetheless, the man still shows he is totally disconnected from the reality and feels no shame for the crimes perpetrated against his own countrymen.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Don't Be Chicken and Pray

So Tyson Foods, one of the world's biggest producers of chicken and other meat products, is launching a "faith-friendly" marketing campaign that will include free downloadable prayer booklets on its web site. I don't know about you, but I get a bad feeling in my stomach when I see religion and adverting mixed like this. Prayer, I figure, should be very personal and should not be coming off a corporate web site. That chicken will be fine without it.

On the other hand, I'm afraid, this is just the beginning of many campaigns targeted at religious Americans, whose lives do seem to be more and more faith-centric, especially in some parts of the country. It was inevitable for some marketing geniuses to notice the trend. Will Tyson sponsor the next showing of The Passion of the Christ at the grocery store near you?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Corrupt Medicine - Nearly 70 pct of Poles Bribe Doctors

Corruption in Poland has always seemed to me to be at astronomical levels. Poland sports the worst level of corruption among the EU countries. When I lived there, I often had to deal with bribe-taking officials, be it customs agents or police officers. Thankfully, I never had to deal with the scourge of corruption in hospitals, which is even more frightening. According to a cover story in this week's Polish Newsweek, nearly 70 percent of Poles admit to giving bribes to their doctors, or about 10 percentage points higher than just two years ago. The weekly estimates about 5 billion zlotys, or $1.5 billion, in bribes flows into the Polish healthcare system every year.

I applaud Newsweek for focusing on this story. The magazine, supported by the health ministry, has proposed that doctors and hospitals decree that they would not longer take bribes. I hope this will at least spotlight this huge problem.

Certainly in the U.S., money talks in the health care system and the richer get better treatment, medicine, etc. But it's frightening that in Poland patients have to grease the wheels at every step of the way, from getting into the hospital, to receiving the right medicine or being seen by the right doctor. Who can say how many poor patients, who don't even have money to pay a small bribe, suffer because they do not get the right treatment. And if 70 percent of Poles give bribes to doctors, wouldn't this indicate that pretty much every doctor takes bribes?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dave, Oprah -- Is World Peace Next?

Well, Oprah and my favorite TV guy David Letterman have settled their decade-old feud. Can the Isrealis and the Palestinians, or at least the French and the Brits, follow suit?

PS. It hurt a little seeing Dave groveling so much...

UN-Presidential: Pardon Controversy Continues

The storm over the possible pardon for former deputy interior minister by outgoing Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is brewing at full strength. The news is on the front page of most dailies, with a clearly negative slant. Not a good move by Kwasniewski, even if just for the sake of his legacy.

There is plenty of speculation why he would want to pardon crony Zbigniew Sobotka, who endangered police lives by leaking info on a police raid. At least one paper speculates that since Kwasniewski's prospects for a UN post or any other "international" position are not very strong, he may simply be doing all he can to keep his former communist friends happy at home.

There is one disturbing wrinkle here. The justice ministry, now in the hands of the right, is sitting on papers requested by Kwasniewski, possibly stalling until he leaves office on December 22. That's a little worrying from a constitutional level, as the president does have the power to pardon without a permission from either the justice ministry or the courts if he so desires. Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro is right in saying this pardon would border the outrageous. But he should not undermine the president's constitutional powers, especially since one of his own is about to take over.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

UN-Presidential: Kwasniewski May Pardon Former Ministers

This blog has been following Polish President Kwasniewski's campaign for the top post at the UN, with mixed feelings. Now, according to Polish papers, it looks like Kwasniewski may issue a last minute pardon to a former Interior Ministry deputy minister who is heading to jail for endangering police lives by leaking info about a planned police raid on local mafia.

Kwasniewski doesn't have much time because his presidency ends on December 22 and for his sake I hope he doesn't make it. This would be an ugly stain on his record. He might want to ask former U.S. President Clinton about the harm of last minute pardons. This move would excuse an action by a former top official at a ministry which oversees the police. Instead of doing all he can to support law enforcement, this character decided to leak secret info to two local party officials, who in turn passed it on people connected to the local underworld.

All three were sentenced to jail, with former deputy minister, Zbigniew Sobotka getting a 3 1/2 year sentence. Hopefully he'll end up there.

Kwasniewski is also considering pardoning another crony, former interior minister and Kwasniewski's chief of staff Ryszard Kalisz, for a small libel fine from several years ago.

Saving party pals from just punishment doesn't exactly look becoming for a man who claimed to be the "President of all Poles" and wants to head the UN some day.