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Except for the part about giving a no-strings $1,000 per month to anyone amorphously defined “low-income” or “middle-income,” I mostly agreed with the sobering look at the Millenial Generation I read on Sunday. (Christmas Grinch or not, for a lot of reasons a $1,000 handout is a bad idea. For one, who’s going to pay for it? Don’t count on noblesse oblige.)

Just the same, I urge you to read the dire financial deconstruction in the cleverly conceptualized Highline story by Michael Hobbes, “Millenials Are Screwed,” subtitled, “Why millenials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression.”

Their “touchstone experience” is “uncertainty” Hobbes explains. He runs through factors like salary stagnation, job and housing insecurity, and other cratered economic sectors to project that his will be “the first generation in modern history to be poorer than our parents.”

As it is, one in five currently live in poverty. And they have at least 300 percent more debt than their parents — more about that after. Plan for retirement? Buy a home? Not even.

And as for all that free money, here’s the other problem. The definition of “middle-income” or “middle class” is increasingly in the eye of the bean-holder. Uncle Joe Biden once ridiculously asserted, for example, that an annual salary of $379,000 was middle class.

Putting Biden’s neuron misfire into perspective, per the latest U.S. Census data, “In 2016, the median household income for all counties ranged between $22,045 and $134,609, with a median county-level value of $47,589.” A more learned economist than Uncle Joe says based on that data,“middle class ought to be defined as households making 50 percent higher and lower than the median.”

File:Soirée WikiCheese le 23 janvier 2015 - 57.jpgThat, of course, is not to dismiss with a straight face folks insisting through a mouthful of ripe ‘cru’ Beaujolais and Brie de Meaux that $300,000 to $400,000 annually is middle class.

Which brings me to something equally troubling, which is that millennials who are lawyers are smack in the throes of the same structural disadvantages Hobbes describes. Millenials earning a J.D. degree the past ten years have assured themselves of only one thing — astronomical student debt.

On average, borrowers in the law school class of 2014 took on $111,899 in debt according to US News & World Report. And the average indebtedness of 2016 law school graduates who incurred law school debt is worse still — in one word — appalling. Also see Stat Of The Week: Law School Graduate Debt Soars.”

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/37/Bury_your_head_in_the_sand.jpg/160px-Bury_your_head_in_the_sand.jpgMeantime, head-in-the-sand mandatory bar associations like the one in Nevada keep coming up with new ways to tighten the economic screws on their members, especially hard-pressed millenials. Last week the Nevada Bar sent a blast email survey asking members to weigh in on mandatory malpractice insurance. Also see “Join the Discussion: Whether Malpractice Insurance Should be Mandatory in Nevada.”

The survey was laughably replete with leading questions and agenda-driven outcome-bias. Knowing how these things work, the survey’s real purpose was to offer the tone-deaf governing board a fig leaf of cover for what they’re going to do anyway — no matter objections of the lawyer hoi polloi.

Happy then, the carriers with captive customers. Also for carriers — hallowed be the Nevada Bar since this insurance can easily run a few thousand dollars per year. But unhappy those who like Blanche Dubois will look to the kindness of carriers to resist the temptation to increase the cost of insurance across the board.

For Nevada’s millenial lawyers, it’s just one more structural disadvantage like all the ones faced by millenials generally. And as for the rest of us, time for a reassessment. Millenials aren’t entitled. And they aren’t slackers — they’re just screwed.

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Photo Credit: Soiree Wikicheese, by Lionel Allorge at Wikimedia Commons under GNU Free Documentation License ;Bury your head in the sand, by Sander van der Wel at Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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Several weeks ago, I heard the following podcast on the local NPR Station and was so moved by Mario’s story I was compelled to reach out to author at Open Conversation to ask permission to reblog it. She graciously gave permission.

This being Thanksgiving week, I can think of no better time than today to share it.

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Listen to Open Conversation episodes also every other Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

Note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the story to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

RR: “I’ve been to the Citizenship Oath Ceremony. As many others I volunteered to tell my story on that day. It’s an emotional moment, a milestone for many; a culmination of life-changing events and hard decisions that preceded that day. Mario vaguely remembers the trip to the border.”

Mario: “The way that I remember is we went by land, we went by sea and then we went by land all the way through Mexico.”

RR: “Although he says one detail from the journey stands out.”

Mario: “Being with my mom underneath a bus, where they put the luggage and stuff. There’s no windows, but there was a red light. All I remember seeing was the red light for like the longest time.”

RR: “They applied for asylum followed by years of waiting.”

Mario: “When I was signing my papers, because they make you sign, ‘you gotta sign really good right here, the President is gonna see this.’ I’m like a little kid, I have the worst handwriting. Like I have a lot of pressure to sign a piece of paper.”

RR: “And at the end was denial. The family was granted a ‘voluntary departure,’ which means one has to be out of the United States within a certain timeframe.”

Mario: “We’ve never went back. It was not the nicest area where we lived, it was pretty rough, so one of the outlets that we had was actually going to karate classes.”

RR: “He and his sister ended up representing the USA at the Junior Olympics. Both of them won gold.”

Mario: “But then it got back that you get picked to go and we couldn’t go because we didn’t have papers.”

RR: “And the thread of working hard for something and at the end not being able to enjoy the outcomes – it kept persisting. Like the time when he excelled at the high school exit exam, was granted a scholarship from Governor to go to college.”

Mario: “And I remember typing in, you know, my information and trying to get the scholarship and it just kept saying denied. I sat there, I got really scared, I started looking around because I don’t know if somebody else saw it. And I was worried maybe it was going to call somebody to come get me. I kind of felt embarrassed at some point because having to tell people all the time, well, I’m not here legally. You kind of do live in the shadows a little bit.”

RR: “You face obstacles at every turn, Mario says. But I get it, he adds, and I learned to live with it.”

Mario: “I just, I said we can’t keep doing this. We have to go and revisit our case. So we appealed it, I remember going in front of the judge and the judge is like, oh, this case has been around since like the early nineties. You know what, from this day forward you guys are legal residents of the United States and that was such a relief. The first thing I do is going to apply for FAFSA and apply to ASU again and I got in again.

“I graduated school in 2013. It took years and years, you know, a degree that should have taken four years to do, took me almost eight. Like you want to be at a certain level and you have so many obstacles. And finally getting there. It’s really good, it’s a good feeling. it wasn’t until about October of last year that I finally qualified for the five years as a resident to apply for citizenship. And as soon as, the date to the date that it hit I put my application in right away, I’m like here you go. And I got my interview, I went there. The gentleman, he said: ‘Did you have time to study?’ and my response was: ‘All my life.’ I studied all my life… As of two months ago I became a US citizen.”

RR: “Can you tell me more about the day of the ceremony?”

Mario: “That’s… that’s a good one. That morning actually I went to work with my dad. I remember I was like, man, on the day of my citizenship here I am, cleaning carpets and sweating. So we got done. We’re sitting in that room. The judge comes in, and they’re like: ‘We’d like to ask volunteers to go up here and give their story. As soon as I get up to the podium, the first person I see is my dad. And that just hit me, and I started to choke up and I was telling people: ‘Even on the day of the citizenship I was working with my dad. Early in the morning, my brother is ten years old, he was working with us. And they always said hard work. Hard work and we put in a lot of hard work.

“After I spoke the judge had a few words and he pointed out my speech and said: ‘You know, this is why this country is so great.’

“Sometimes I don’t feel that I can say I’m Guatemalan because I never grew up there. When people ask me: ‘Where are you from?’ I say I am from the United States. And that’s something really, really powerful for me and something that I really cherish, that I can call this country my home.”

music by Dana Boule, Circus Marcus

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8a/William_Wordsworth.jpg/172px-William_Wordsworth.jpg

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth decried “getting and spending,” calling it “a sordid boon” that lays waste to our self and clouds our wonder of the physical world. “We have given our hearts away” he complains in “The World Is Too Much with Us.”

I memorized that poem in college. And I still find more encouragement in that English Romantic’s bleak sonnet than in the dark comedy I saw last weekend that traipses across similar anti-materialism terrain.

As the credits rolled up at the end of Beatriz at Dinner, I didn’t know whether to run or reach for a razor blade. “Critical praise = a depressing movie,” I once declared. Well this riff on healing vs. destroying called Beatriz at Dinner has been heaped with critical praise. Quick, pass the critics their Prozac.

Led by Salma Hayek, Connie Britton and John Lithgow, the cast is admittedly praiseworthy. Even the minor characters are uniformly excellent although I do tire of the trope of the ethically challenged attorney that always predictably pops up in tales of depraved material excess. This time, the lawyer is Alex played by Jay Duplass who finagles a real estate deal for mega-rich property developer Doug Strutt played by the uber-talented Lithgow.

But the good gal vs. bad guys story with Hayek as the Mexican immigrant and empathetic earth mother massage-therapy-healing Beatriz — contradictorily massages the message right out of you. I doubt that’s what the writer or the director intended.

Indeed, I think Beatriz at Dinner is meant as a sociopolitical commentary on class division and healing not hurting. One commentator even sees it as a take on innocuous questions that he calls a “gateway to casual racism.” While that commentator makes some telling points about hypocrisy, false perceptions, and how “wealth and status don’t overpower racial discrimination,” he’s too overwrought for my taste. See “Why Dark Comedy ‘Beatriz at Dinner’ Is So Cathartic for POC Audiences.” [To my insurance defense lawyers, POC here does not mean proof of claim but people of color. Who knew?]

Years ago, I had a guy try to hand me the keys to his Beemer in front of a tony Ritz-Carlton. Had I not been running late to a meeting in the hotel, I might have simply said thanks and left him with his mouth open when instead of parking the sports car like he mistakenly assumed, I’d have peeled rubber down the Coast Highway on a fast spin. And besides, these days who really thinks wealth and status don’t overpower grace and manners? Money still doesn’t buy class.

No spoiler alert necessary here. But I disagree further with the aforementioned commentator who additionally opines that the film indicts “white supremacy.” At the same time, he also asserts that this implausible sapo-de-otro-pozo [frog from the other well] story is “empowering.” It’s empowering alright — but only if by that you mean knowing how your story is going to end.

This weekend, on the other hand, I saw The Big Sick. It’s also a film about cultural differences. It relates the real life courtship of Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife, Emily Gordon. But by contrast to Beatriz, it’s indeed a comedy. It’s full of pathos, humor, and romance. There’s terrific acting, too, by Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan and the actress that never disappoints, the inimitable Holly Hunter.

And no lawyers or the profession’s reputation were harmed in the making of this movie. In fact, there are no lawyers in it.

The movie is fun, funny and in point of fact empowering of the spirit. Moreover, unlike Beatriz at Dinner, you feel good walking out of the cineplex.

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Credits: William Wordsworth, public domain, at Wikimedia Commons; Beatriz at Dinner poster, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53897899; Montclair Film by “Amy Gallatin / Montclair Film” at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Swallowed in the Sea, by KellyB at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; The Big Sick, By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53943370

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https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/l/larryfarr/10/l/13817963898k84q.jpgOver the holidays, I finished reading lawyer and social activist Bryan Stevenson’s extraordinary memoir, Just Mercy. Not only does Stevenson humanize the incarcerated by telling their stories but he goes marrow deep in describing endemic injustices in our criminal justice system.

Perhaps it’s because so many of the lawyers I’ve come to like and admire are criminal defense attorneys that I’ve found myself reading to understand their work. The best of them are lawyers who despite the odds remain willing to represent defendants who New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin once wrote are “treated as just another fungible item to be shuffled along on a criminal-justice conveyor belt.”

In reading books like Just Mercy, I follow a thread begun when I first picked up David Cole’s 1999 seminal standard, No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System. I later read John Grisham’s The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. Grisham’s nonfiction book left me disgusted and angry. That book was followed by Steven Bogira’s Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse.

And more recently still tripping the outrage meter, there’s been Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces and Michael Cicchini’s Tried and Convicted: How Police, Prosecutors, and Judges Destroy Our Constitutional Rights.

These aren’t books just for lawyers. Every U.S. resident should read them. Forewarned is forearmed. Indeed, Cicchini’s latest, the equally excellent, Convicting Avery: The Bizarre Laws and Broken System behind “Making a Murderer,” to be published in April, will hopefully all but ensure average citizens do all they can to stay far away from the machinery of criminal justice. Too many times, it seems, the sad message for the Average Joe and Jane coming from unequal justice literature is if you don’t have money for a defense — you’re going to get screwed.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/c/click/preview/fldr_2008_11_08/file000521358819.jpgAll of which gets me back to Just Mercy and what’s stayed with me since reading it. It was the chapter almost near the end of the book where Stevenson talks about the one night 25 years into his fight against excessive punishment, mass incarceration, and racial and economic injustice, and when at extremely low ebb, he despairs over our “broken system of justice.” He is ready to stop. “I can’t do this anymore,” he writes. “I can just leave. Why am I doing this?”

But through his soul crisis, he comes to a powerful epiphany. Stevenson writes: “My years of struggling against inequality, abusive power, poverty, oppression, and injustice had finally revealed something to me about myself. Being close to suffering, death, executions, and cruel punishments didn’t just illuminate the brokenness of others; in a moment of anguish and heartbreak, it also exposed my own brokenness. You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it.

“We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/o/Oleander/12/l/1418846725d5h3t.jpgAnd then in one of the book’s most arrestingly inspirational passages, Stevenson cites a quote  once heard and attributed to writer Thomas Merton, “We are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we are fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.

“We have a choice. We can embrace our humaneness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”

In his Ted talk below, Bryan Stevenson revisits this and more, including “The opposite of poverty is justice.” For more insights watch the video and read Just Mercy.

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Credits: Morguefile.com, no attribution license.

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On Sunday, the local paper ran a front page story about how $4.6M in charitable contributions was spent. It was only news because of the way some of that money was distributed to the beneficiaries.

In the aftermath of the sixth-largest loss of life for firefighters in U.S. history, millions of dollars in donations came pouring in from around the country. The donations, big and small, were meant for the surviving families of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite group of firefighters who died in a wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona in 2013.

WTF | by ulricaloebAccording to the investigative report by the Arizona Republic’s Robert Anglen, “One of the key organizations responsible for managing those donations now questions how some of the money was used, with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on sightseeing trips, high-end restaurants and hotels for hotshots’ families.”

My point in mentioning this head-shaking story is not to pick on the surviving families who as Anglen points out, “did nothing wrong in accepting the donations.” Or is it to unnecessarily dwell upon what amounts to a pretty embarrassing and disastrous public relations snafu for the charities and their management. The paper’s investigative story does all of that and then some.

It’s merely to highlight once again one of life’s most sacred and unhappy truths. The easiest money to spend is always somebody else’s.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/20/Portrait_of_Milton_Friedman.jpg/385px-Portrait_of_Milton_Friedman.jpg

Milton Friedman

I’ve known this all my life. And it’s one of the principal reasons that organizational, business and government transparency and the lack thereof aggravates and animates me so much. As a matter of fact, it is one of the two key drivers of my quest to reform mandatory bar associations. You don’t get any more high-handed and cavalier in spending somebody else’s compulsory dues money than the tin-eared bureaucrats running our nation’s mandatory bar associations.

The other energizer is of course, reclaiming and protecting the First Amendment freedoms of lawyers, which like the Constitutional rights of all Americans are being eroded everyday.

As for transparency and “on whom money is spent,” Nobel prize-winning economist, the late Milton Friedman said it best some 36-years ago in Free to Choose co-authored with his wife, Rose.

 

Friedman knew that if it’s someone else’s money — there’s no accountability and no real consequences as to how that money is spent.

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Credits: money, at Morguefile, no attribution; “WTF,” by ulricaloeb at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license; Portrait of Milton Friedman by Robert Hannah 89, The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice via Wikipedia, public domain; chart via Youtube video.

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In some parts of the world, the first day of May is May Day or International Workers Day. But thanks to a proclamation during President Eisenhower’s administration, May 1st in the U.S. is Law Day. It’s meant as the day each year to celebrate the rule of law in society. So quite appropriately comes a timely news story to momentarily ease the otherwise burdened cynical heart.

The salutary tonic is administered through the story of Judge Lou Olivera, a North Carolina District Court jurist, whose extraordinary compassion provides the welcome antidote. This past April 13th, Judge Olivera sentenced former Green Beret Joseph Serna to spend 24 hours in jail for a probation violation. Serna is a retired Army veteran who served almost 20 years. Deployed four times to Afghanistan, he earned three Purple Hearts and was almost killed three times. But since leaving the service, Serna has struggled with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

To cope, Serna has self-medicated with alcohol. As a consequence, he has run afoul of the law. Having violated his probation with a DUI, he appeared in Judge Olivera’s courtroom last month. Judge Olivera, himself a Gulf War veteran, runs the county’s Veterans Treatment Court.

“I gave Joe a night in jail because he had to be held accountable,” the judge later explained. But concerned that sentencing Serna in isolation for a night would trigger his PTSD, Judge Olivera did something truly remarkable. He decided to spend the night with Serna in the one-man cell. They spent the time talking about their military experiences. Serna said it felt like “a father-son conversation.”

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“May I ask what you’re doing?” asked the thickly accented Germanic voice through the trees.

I’d just parked my car and planned to walk one of our dogs on a recent afternoon. After riding over 3 hours in the back seat, she needed to do what dogs do. We’d alighted in what I once thought was a friendly neighborhood, the kind of welcoming place you might be happy to live in. Indeed, the location is next to one of our favorite local golf courses.

My plastic bag was in one hand and our leashed tail wagger was in the other. She blissfully sniffed the grass next to the public sidewalk while I looked up at the unexpected questioner. Through the branches, I saw he was a tall ruddy-faced senior standing in the yard of the adjoining residence.

“I’m walking my dog,” I answered as though not patently obvious even to the half-sighted. “Why are you asking?” I inquired.

Pachuco | by gabofr

“We have a neighborhood block watch,” he replied sharply. “Well, good for you,” I rejoined now understanding what this was really about.

Not that I wear my sensitivities on my sleeve. Still, I used to wonder — but no longer do — about the point in life when age, appearance or socioeconomic status finally insulates from small-minded prejudice. It never does.

Those sculpted and fired by intolerance see what they want to see. No matter if you dress neatly or drive a nice car. Or are past your middle earlies and are minding your own business on a sunny public walkway with a contented canine. For folks partial to a preferentially homogeneous community, there goes the sidewalk. You can take the Latino out of the ‘barrio’ but you never take the barrio out of the Latino.

Ethnic stereotyping and racial profiling are part of growing up in urban America.

fp031216-02 | by fontplaydotcom

And as a son of Boyle Heights, I was no stranger to it, especially in adolescence and early adulthood. I had my share, including at the hands of L.A.’s ‘finest.’

“May I ask you not to come onto my driveway,” the stranger inhospitably admonished. “Don’t worry, I have no intention,” I answered as he turned and walked away.“And you’re a friendly one,” I added.

Not that he went away. He turned and stood in his open garage and looked on and frowned. Just another bigoted day in the neighborhood.

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Credits: “Pachuco,” by Gabriel Flores Romero at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; “fp031216-02,” by Dennis Hill at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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