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Hitachi Fined $31 Million For LCD Price Fixing 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the pay-up dept.
MojoKid writes "The Japanese electronics manufacturer has just agreed to pay a staggering $31 million fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices in the sale of TFT-LCD panels sold to Dell, Inc. The United States Department of Justice made the proclamation, and details show that Hitachi has plead guilty to a one-count felony. The charge, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, blames Hitachi Displays Ltd., a subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd., with 'participating in a conspiracy to fix the prices of TFT-LCD sold to Dell for use in desktop monitors and notebook computers from April 1, 2001 through March 31, 2004.'"
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Hitachi Fined $31 Million For LCD Price Fixing

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  • Fixed which way? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:12PM (#27160527) Journal
    High or low? I guess it would be "dumping" if low...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Q: How can a "first post" be "redundant"? It's not much, but it certainly isn't the usual "first post" fare, right?
      A: Moderators mod down posters they don't like.

      AC just guessing here.
  • How Much? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rik Rohl (1399705) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:15PM (#27160569)
    did they make more than $31 mil profit by fixing the prices? If they did then they got away with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Exactly! It's not like this is going to hurt their reputation in any significant way, so the fines HAVE to be higher than the illicit profits for them to have any real teeth.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sjames (1099)

        Since we can't put a corporation in jail, I suggest instead that they spend the same amount of time forced to operate as a 501c non-profit organization.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Since we can't put a corporation in jail, I suggest instead that they spend the same amount of time forced to operate as a 501c non-profit organization.

          I have a better idea, but one that requires a little setup. A corporation that hopes to get away with stuff like this should lose ALL patents and copyrights they currently own.

          However we'd have to make sure there's no way for every company to just set up dummy holding corps for their patents that they'd then "license" back to themselves.

          On the other hand, th

          • by nabsltd (1313397)

            A corporation that hopes to get away with stuff like this should lose ALL patents and copyrights they currently own. However we'd have to make sure there's no way for every company to just set up dummy holding corps for their patents that they'd then "license" back to themselves.

            If you are going to write a law with enough teeth to remove their patents from their name, I suspect the law could also prohibit them from continuing to license any patents they currently license.

            This still doesn't prevent them from hiding their patents in another company and not licensing them, but that exposes risks in case the other company becomes controlled by someone not friendly.

        • Who said we can't? A corporation is a trust run by its board for its investors.
          Put the board in prison or its Chairman.
          That's what India and Russia do.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Put the board in prison or its Chairman.
            That's what India and Russia do.

            Fucking shooting them doesn't even work, they've been doing it in China as long as they've had guns (they were just whacking people with sharp things before that) and corruption still runs at least as rampant there as anywhere else.

            • True to an extent.
              But once you publicly execute the guys, the message gets through, and the activity's reduced to a great extent or the guys go underground.
              If they underground, then they are illegals.

        • by mcgrew (92797)

          Why can't we put the compamy's decision makers (CEO, President, and board of directors) in prison?

          • by sjames (1099)

            In some cases, we probably could, but in way too many cases, we'd end up punishing one individual person for the criminal acts of another or the trial process would become very difficult trying to determine who did or did not have personal knowledge of the crime (and if not, was it criminally negligent) and did they have sufficient authority to countermand the illegal orders.

      • by pwizard2 (920421)
        I say slap a 1 TRILLION dollar fine on the CEO of the company and garnish his future wages. Whether he can actually pay that or not is beside the point, The objective is to completely bankrupt the guy and keep him on a sustenance income for the rest of his life. That way, the punishment only affects the guilty individual.

        If you just gave a huge fine to the company, the company may go out of business and people could lose their jobs, so you would only end up hurting innocent people.
    • yep, they defo got away with it. if you had http://www.rtfa.co.uk/ [rtfa.co.uk] you would have seen what other companies got hit with.
    • Re:How Much? (Score:5, Informative)

      by hardburn (141468) <hardburn AT wumpus-cave DOT net> on Thursday March 12, 2009 @12:18AM (#27162145)

      They've also been hit with criminal fines of over $585 million.

      • by enigma48 (143560)

        This seemed a bit high to me, and I think the $585M is the total amount charged to all conspiring companies to date:

        http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/41689/118/ [tgdaily.com]

        $31M seems a little low but a) they plead guilty and b) they assisted in building the case against the other companies. Still, for a $70B (2006) market, even if they were a small player they seemed to have gotten off a bit easier than I'd expect.

  • by cc_pirate (82470) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:17PM (#27160591)

    Once again a corporation is allowed to steal and not pay back what it stole...

    While an individual would have to pay every DIME back and then pay a penalty on TOP of that...

    Pathetic

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bluefoxlucid (723572)
      You know how much they made? Do you know the point of price fixing?
    • by Idiomatick (976696) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:30PM (#27160707)
      To be fair companies are people. Punitive charges don't make as much sense. Charging the people who made the decisions punitive amounts does and I believe they have/will do so. Hurting a company of thousands of employees for the actions of 2~3 people is pretty pointless. The people that made the decision will be replaced so it doesn't matter.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FlyingBishop (1293238)

        Those jobs might not exist if the company hadn't been price fixing. Lack of significant consequences means a lack of significant laws.

      • by muszek (882567) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:49PM (#27160903) Homepage

        If the worst that can happen to our company is giving back what we stole, we're gonna do the naughty thing.

      • Sounds like a broken window fallacy to me. All those jobs might not have existed if it weren't for the criminal behavior, so I don't understand the idea of just letting it go.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Idiomatick (976696)
          No, pay back the full amount taken. But punitive fees for people can be much more than the cost of damage (in mp3s case many 1000x). I don't think wipeing a company of thousands of employees off the face of the earth is a good idea when the act was perpetrated by a select few. And as the article states the people directly involved are getting hefty fines AND prison time. So lesson learned without having to devalue the company.
          • by WNight (23683)

            It's not like the company and its valuable assets are burned out of spite. They'd be auctioned off to someone else - likely many employees could go day-to-day and barely notice this happen.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by earlymon (1116185)

        Not so fast, compadre - according to TFA, some guys from Chunghwa were sentenced to jail time and indictments have been handed down to LG execs.

        Lousy summary - Hitachi didn't price fix by themselves, they had (above named) partners.

        It is beginning to look like fines are only part of the picture here.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        To be fair companies are people. Punitive charges don't make as much sense. Charging the people who made the decisions punitive amounts does and I believe they have/will do so. Hurting a company of thousands of employees for the actions of 2~3 people is pretty pointless. The people that made the decision will be replaced so it doesn't matter.

        So I can steal $20,000 using my corporation and only have to pay back $5,000.

        It works, Madoff is currently under house arrest...

        In his 7 million dollar apartmen

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Afforess (1310263)
      The best part, the new LCD screens will cost more because they have to cover "court costs." It's a lose-lose situation for consumers.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AmberBlackCat (829689)

        The best part, the new LCD screens will cost more because they have to cover "court costs." It's a lose-lose situation for consumers.

        Unless that makes a competitor's product cost less than the Hitachi LCD...

    • by Kanasta (70274)

      why to companies pay fines for felonies, while individuals have their lives ruined and serve jail time?
      surely a corporation has enough individuals to at least put a couple behind bars for good effort?

    • Corporation - n. - An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit, without individual responsibility.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mabhatter654 (561290)

      they didn't steal anything. They just structured "impressions" so Dell paid them more money than the market would have decided on.

      Personally, I'm having a problem with all these foreign companies being sued for "collusion" years after the fact. Prices are consistently dropping, in fact they are dropping in many cases dangerously fast to the economy. The big problem in the electronics industry is that there is little adjusting to market demand after production is started. Companies pay their billions up fron

      • they didn't steal anything

        Yes they did. From us. When they forced Dell to pay more for the LCD, Dell dutifully passed the increase onto us. Which means we wuz robbed.
        In the wild west, this would have been solved with a Colt .48 Magnum...
         

  • Agreed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:19PM (#27160615)

    The Japanese electronics manufacturer has just agreed to pay....

    How come when companies break the law they get to "agree" on the punishment?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jcnnghm (538570)

      Because the only other sensible thing to write is, "plans to file an appeal?"

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Never heard of plea bargains, huh?

    • How come when companies break the law they get to "agree" on the punishment?

      This is like asking "How come cows can fly?" They can't so the question is meaningless. In your case companies do not do anything, people within those companies do things. Because there are many people within a company many things can be done at the same time. Some times even at cross purposes.

      In this case one person did the price fixing. Then later another person agreed to pay the fine. Almost certainly this was not the same

  • That's hardly pocket change to a corporation like Hitachi.

    • Yeah but I doubt they have to pay it all at once. They probably only have to pay interest on the 31 million till they go out of business.
  • Staggering (Score:1, Insightful)

    by jason8 (917879)
    $25 billion in profits last year. Yep, that $31 million fine is staggering.
    • Re:Staggering (Score:5, Interesting)

      by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:57PM (#27161015)

      $25 billion in profits last year. Yep, that $31 million fine is staggering.

      Citation please? According to http://investing.businessweek.com/businessweek/research/stocks/earnings/earnings.asp?symbol=6581.T [businessweek.com]

      Hitachi's revenue for 2008 was 175B yen or $1.8B. Which is not even the net profit, it's the all monies coming in before expenses. This is no where near $25B in profit.

      In fact they made a net profit of 1.5B yen or $129 Million for 2007. $31 million is almost a quarter of their profits for 2007. For 2008(3-08 to 3-09) they are posting a $7.8B loss.

      http://retrenchment-blog.breaking.sg/2009/01/hitachi-cuts-7000-jobs-worldwide/ [breaking.sg]

      • Which Hitachi? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:09PM (#27161121)
        Remember, this Hitachi is only a small subsidiary of the bigger Hitachi, and mentioned in TFA.
      • by jason8 (917879)
        Oops, maybe you're right, I got my info here [yahoo.com], specifically the "Gross Profit (ttm): 24.74B". I should have thought about that a minute, USD 25B in profit sounds way too big. My bad.
      • This is slashdot, citations are only required for the important stuff like obscure vim macro commands to prove its superiority over emacs.

        As Colbert would say, a tip of my hat for bringing some real figures into the discussion ;p

        The problem with punishing a company as others have stated is it affects the average worker much more negatively than some exec who just lists it as a "failed strategy" (read: got caught) if they're questioned about it.

        Sucks how most financial systems end up rewarding the wrong peop

      • by DarthVain (724186)

        You are correct, sort of.

        25 billion likely was total revenue which doesn't include operating expenses.

        From what I briefly googled it was more like 31 billion in 2008 (Feb 5th), and I thought it was about 110 million actual profit.

        While 31 million would be about 1/4 of their profits for that year what the point is:

        A) 80 million dollars is still a shit ton of money profit anyway, so keep doing it.

        and

        B) Do you think the 31 million was directed for one particular year. Put another way, do you think they priced

    • by longacre (1090157)
      Really? Their biggest annual profit in the past 10 years was $841 million. In 2008 they posted a loss of $581 million.
  • by femto (459605) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:42PM (#27160833) Homepage

    See, that's where it's so unfair to treat companies as people. They get the benefits, but not the downsides. If *I* committed a felony I would go to gaol. A company gets a smack on the wrist and it is business as usual.

    What we need is a gaol for companies. If a person has to lose "X" years of their life by being locked up, why not a company? Being in "gaol" might mean that the company is nationalised for the length of the sentence and all profits go to the government.

    • Gaol?

      Woah. Is this 1709 or 2009?

    • by pclminion (145572)
      Theoretically, any officer of the company who was complicit in the criminal behavior can be held criminally liable as an individual. For some reason, this doesn't always happen. What the hell does it mean to "convict" a company, anyway?
      • Theoretically, any officer of the company who was complicit in the criminal behavior can be held criminally liable as an individual. For some reason, this doesn't always happen. What the hell does it mean to "convict" a company, anyway?

        Scooter Libby would like to have a word with you.

        • by pclminion (145572)
          It does happen, just not nearly as often as you'd expect from the way the law is written.
          • I'll concede that it's rare, but not so rare as to still be theoretical. And there's been a growing trend in sending top people to jail just lately, even before the financial crisis came down. I know Canada had a case just last year, in Quebec (appealed to the Supreme Court), where an executive (or maybe a director) was convicted over a workplace safety incident (but alas I don't remember the name of the case). It was, I believe, a first in Canada, but there are more in the courts, and I think there've bee

      • Practically also its true.
        Anyone committing a crime is a criminal.
        No one can assault his in-laws and then claim his corporate policy made him do it.
        Acting on behalf of someone is not a license to commit crimes and escape responsibility.
        Contract Law states that when an Agent acts ultra-vires of his Licensor, then the Agent is individually responsible for such acts.
        Jail the criminal, and convict him.
        Period.
        Unfortunately none of our lawmakers would allow such a thing to happen: especially Republicans like Orri

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eln (21727)

      I'd love to see a way to really punish corporations. Jailing their chief officers is a good start, but that usually only happens in the most egregious cases involving something that brings the company itself down. However, your idea to temporarily nationalize the company in order to punish it, while definitely giving the government incentive to enforce the laws, may be going a bit too far.

      Considering the country is currently many trillions of dollars in debt, and adding almost 2 trillion more to that debt

    • by mcgrew (92797)

      If a person has to lose "X" years of their life by being locked up, why not a company? Being in "gaol" might mean that the company is nationalised for the length of the sentence and all profits go to the government.

      Why the government? Why not the victims? Take the peanut butter company, it should get the death penalty, with its stockholders (actually it's one sociopathic rich ass bastard) losing all equity and all shares divided between the sick, and the dead's families.

      In this case, Dell (and Hitachi's oth

  • by AlexCorn (763954) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:52PM (#27160937)
    Does the government keep the $31 million, or does it get distributed to those people who bought price-fixed displays? If the government keeps it, do the victims get a tax cut?

    I'd rather a profitable, productive company like Hitachi keep the money than the parasitic government.
    • by LoverOfJoy (820058) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:00PM (#27161039) Homepage
      Don't worry. The $31 million will just barely cover the costs of the lawyers. The government won't see a dime.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by kklein (900361)

      I'd rather a profitable, productive company like Hitachi keep the money than the parasitic government.

      Yes, but that's because you think that if we adopted your feudal economic system again, you'd be a lord, not a serf.

      That is to say, you are a moron.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fractoid (1076465)
        In the words of the late Doctor Asimov: "What you're really saying is 'Up with Slavery for Other People!'"
    • I'd rather a profitable, productive company like Hitachi keep the money than the parasitic government.

      Yes, what has "The Government" ever done for us? Well, except for the Internet you're using to demand a return to feudalism and the rule of nobles and strongmen, basically nothing!

  • I don't really think that anything changes now that they were "caught". How many price-fixing slaps-on-the-wrists have we seen? Any company that does it just chalks up the fine to business costs, and continues.

    Do I think anything will change? Nope. Ask yourself why they don't get caught while doing it. After the fact, it doesn't matter anymore.

    Oh, and double bonus points to the article writer for using the word "plead", and not "pleaded".

    • by clampolo (1159617)
      True. Every couple of years there is another DRAM pricing conviction. This is all a waste of time until they hand out some severe penalties.
  • I purchased multiple Dell systems and monitors during that period. Do I get anything back for the inflated prices I had to pay? Right... That and $3.50 USD (more or less) will buy me a cup of almost-decent coffee.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Those class-action lawsuits are totally bogus from the consumer's POV. Based on the notices I've received in the past, the outcome always seems to be

      1. to participate, you must log onto some web site, enter your address and two phone #'s, date of birth, SSN, Visa account #, and three personal references; they'll send you a check for $14.50 in the mail. If the check doesn't arrive in six weeks, send a request by certified mail.
      2. Court-approved plaintiff attorneys Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe LLP will receive 40 pct
  • Rights (Score:5, Funny)

    by darkpixel2k (623900) <aaron@heyaaron.com> on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:39PM (#27161321) Homepage

    details show that Hitachi has plead guilty to a one-count felony.

    Damn. Poor Hitachi. They just lost their right to vote and carry a gun.

  • What about the employees that committed unethical and illegal behaviors in doing this? I don't get why people are so shielded when working under a corporation.
  • Short list (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sjames (1099) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @11:33PM (#27161793) Homepage

    Does anyone know where I can find the short list of corporations that are not convicted felons?

    It's odd the way that people who would never in a million years do business with an individual with a felony record (would you buy a house from someone convicted of fraud?) keep on sending their cash to three time loser corporations.

    • Exactly.
      Banks maintain a record of convicted and bankrupt individuals and do not hire them.
      Hell, if someone were to float a company and he's convicted of fraud or a felony, and he goes to bank to secure a loan for his company, he's refused!
      Even though legally both of them are separate individuals!
      Banks do maintain a central registry of such convicted felons.
      Why can't we, citizens, maintain an open source registry of convicted corporations so that we actively prevent them from setting up shop in our town or

    • by khallow (566160)
      Well there's Hitachi for starters. Getting a minor fine for market fixing really doesn't say much about the company. Just because companies pick up fines from governments doesn't mean that they've done anything wrong. To me, most such market morality is more a matter of money. If an activity costs someone money, then they have a tendency to view it as immoral. Personally, I think the cost of market cartels, non-government monopolies, and other such things is less than the cost of government interference.
      • by sjames (1099)

        You're entitled to your opinion, but one company practicing market fixing does more economic damage to society that a million acts of shoplifting. Perhaps when high school kids get caught shoplifting, we should let them keep the item, charge them 10% of it's cost and wag our fingers at them? I'm sure the threat of an instant 90% discount and all that finger wagging (in a private office, not in public of course) will be a powerful deterrent to further crime.

        • by khallow (566160)

          You're entitled to your opinion, but one company practicing market fixing does more economic damage to society that a million acts of shoplifting.

          How do you know? Shoplifters just take while market fixing is higher prices on something that someone wants and is willing to pay that extra bit for.

          As I see it, market fixing signals to the rest of the economy that either the producers in question deserve more money than they were getting or that there's opportunity for new manufacturers. A market with few enough competitors to allow market fixing simply isn't very healthy.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by sjames (1099)

            Market fixing maximizes the effects of the market's ill health and conspires to make it even less healthy (since the conspirators effectively become a single entity as far as market competition is concerned). An act of shoplifting causes a few hundred dollars worth of economic damage at most. An act of market fixing runs into the millions. Keep in mind that price fixing only happens in markets where the barriers to entry are high. Meanwhile, the price fixing creates malinvestment by convincing another playe

            • by khallow (566160)

              Consider, as an outsider, I observer that the price of widgets seems stuck at around 150. I know I can produce them at a cost that allows me to sell for 110. I may conclude that apparently the other manufacturers can't figure out how to make them that cheaply, and go into business. Next day, magically the going rate for widgets is 109. That can only happen because the other manufacturers actually had a slightly lower production cost than me (perhaps because of volume) or because they have already recouped their initial investment. Either way, the price fixing created the illusion that neither was true and convinced me I could profitably enter the market. However, now that the illusion is broken, I'm left with no way to recoup my investment in a reasonable time. Meanwhile, I *could* have invested in something else with slightly lower expectations where the economy (and I) would have benefited more.

              If you had done your homework, you'd already have a good idea how much it costs other manufacturers and would be prepared to tough out the dumping tactic.

              • by sjames (1099)

                So you're saying price fixing is OK because industrial espionage is also OK? The consumer paying higher prices than would be necessary in a properly competitive market is OK?

                I say espionage since in the real world, you can only gather so much information ethically and must infer the rest from such knowable figures as the price and approximate volume. Those inferences will be thrown off if price fixing is in play. To find out about price fixing, espionage or a criminal investigation will be required.

                It sound

                • by khallow (566160)

                  So you're saying price fixing is OK because industrial espionage is also OK? The consumer paying higher prices than would be necessary in a properly competitive market is OK?

                  Yes, I am saying that.

                  I say espionage since in the real world, you can only gather so much information ethically and must infer the rest from such knowable figures as the price and approximate volume. Those inferences will be thrown off if price fixing is in play. To find out about price fixing, espionage or a criminal investigation will be required.

                  My view is that price fixing isn't that hard to figure out. The pricing behavior of the cartel members will be very similar. And in a world where price fixing isn't illegal, they probably wouldn't even bother to be secretive about it.

                  It sounds like you're trying to making a broken economic system "work" by re-defining it's results to be good rather than altering the system until the results actually are good.

                  This is an often successful way to deal with problems. Sometimes the problem isn't really a problem. Ignoring it is in those cases the better solution. IMHO, that's the case with price fixing.

                  In the scenario I presented there is no actual dumping, but the price fixing at the start makes the correction at the end have the same effect as dumping.

                  Eh, dumping, undercutting, whatever. It still remains that they'

                  • by sjames (1099)

                    Eh, dumping, undercutting, whatever. It still remains that they're making $41 less per unit. And dropping the price of a good by 30% can only go on so long.

                    Actually, if the proce would have been 30% less without the collusion, then it CAN go on forever.

                    As for the rest, we'll have to agree to disagree. I strongly suspect that simply allowing such things will not only damage the economy but would damage the cohesiveness of society in general.

  • by meehawl (73285) <meehawl.spam@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Thursday March 12, 2009 @12:00AM (#27162013) Homepage Journal

    In 2005, Samsung paid $300m for price fixing [usdoj.gov]. Hynix paid $185m. Infineon paid $160m, and four of its execs went to prison and paid $250,000 each.

    In 2008, LG paid $400m in fines for price fixing [usdoj.gov]. Sharp paid $120m. Chunghwa paid $65m.

    So... $35m. In this context, not very "staggering".

  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    • by Waccoon (1186667)

      I say this every time I consider replacing my CRT with an LCD. I do sensitive color work, and I have still yet to see an expensive LCD that beats my 7-year-old tube.

      Damn the flood of cheap, crappy TN-based LCDs crowding the market. I don't care about LCD price fixing -- I care about not being able to find a large, new CRT anywhere. Almost all CRTs you try to buy online are refurbished rather than NOS. The sellers often forget to write that in the product description.

  • When people kill other people, we shoot, gas, behead, poison or fry them. When corporations do it, why do they always get by with "mistakes were made"? Why can't their charters be revoked and all of their assets and IP sold, for starters?

  • Our legal system needs to recognize that legal persons have a significant advantage over legal persons in court. To level that playing field:

    -- Make the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law inapplicable to corporations.

    -- After that, you raise the burden of proof, on both liability and damages, when corporations sue individuals. In other words, make the RIAA prove up every last penny of its damages when it sues file sharers. By that I mean, make them produce evidence that every so

    • Shit (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jhylkema (545853)

      Our legal system needs to recognize that legal persons have a significant advantage over legal persons in court.

      Legal persons have a significant advantage over natural persons in court.

      'Course, /. could add post revision functionality like every other web board has had for nearly a decade . . .

IF I HAD A MINE SHAFT, I don't think I would just abandon it. There's got to be a better way. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.

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