I’m a Tucson Arizona lawyer (business, real estate and probate law) and a Licensed Fiduciary (Personal Representative, Trustee and Guardian/Conservator). I also spend part of each day volunteering and helping raise money for good causes. At night I write!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Little Truth, Part 1

A Little Truth, Part 1, is the first post of what I hope are several more, identifying falsehoods in our discourse that don't get challenged.  I hope you enjoy these brief encounters with reality, that they make you more critical thinkers and better citizens, and that you tell your friends.

So, it's a given that people live longer than they used to and, therefore, the United States of America must raise the retirement age for Social Security to save us from ourselves.  Right?  No, wrong, although I'm sure those people who argue for increasing the retirement age will quibble with my characterization of their main argument in support of their position.  To them I say, get your own damn blog!

So, wrong?  Why?  Let's stick with white males, only because I am one and, surprise, the life expectancy tables start with white males. A boy born in 1850 would be expected to live, on average, for 38.3 years. A boy born in 1950 would, on average, be expected to live for 67.55 years, almost 30 years longer. That's a lot of extra years.  Hmmm.  Still wrong?  Yes.

Let's look at how long 1850 boy, if he lived to be 50 years old, would be expected to live.  20.76 more years, all the way until 1920.  And 1950 boy in 2000, when he turns 50?  He'd be expected to live for another 28.2 years.  So over 100 years the average 50 years old's life expectancy lengthened by less than an eight years.

To recap, at birth lives lengthened by almost 30 years over a century, while at 50 years old the same century only gave us middle-aged white guys an extra eight years.  Why the discrepancy?  That's easy; it's all about surviving childbirth.  When a generation lives longer lives than its predecessor generations, but its older people's life expectancies are not significantly greater, mathematics tells us it's all about people dying before they get older.

What does all of this have to do with the Social Security retirement age?  Soon after Social Security came into being in the mid-1930s, 60 year old men were expected to live for about 15 years when they retired.  And now, 75 years later?  About 20 years.  Not very much longer, and certainly nothing worthy of "people are living longer, so we have to raise the retirement age."  I'm no expert on Social Security, but I do know this:  When you talk about people living longer in the context of Social Security, overall life expectancy matters not at all!  Instead, it's about how long people will live once they receive benefits.  And the little truth is that over the past 75 years, retirees aren't living all that much longer.

So, when you hear noise about people living longer, find out who the people are who are living longer, how much longer they're living, and ask yourself, Does this matter?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Random Thoughts On The Tucson Tragedy

I've been quiet until now. "Mostly quiet, " to be totally truthful. We did have a dinner party on January 8--the food was ready and the friends close, so we saw little reason to cancel--and, at about 9:30 and with a snoot full of wine in me, I answered the phone. A reporter from JTA, an international Jewish news service, was calling from Washington, wanting a referral for an article he was writing about the shooting. (Long story about why he was calling me.) I told him I'd get him Jonathan Rothschild's number in the morning. Jonathan is my law partner, a dedicated Democrat, an active member of the Jewish community (and, most likely, the next Mayor of Tucson.) I must have said more than "I'll get you Jonathan's number in the morning," however, as the story that was released on Monday identified me as a Tucson-area lawyer (right) and a Democratic Party activist (huh), and quoted me thusly:  “You have a vice-presidential candidate for a major party who runs ads with targets saying ‘remove Gabby Giffords’ and a young man with issues. You're going to spend a long time convincing me it doesn't have something to do with it.” (My partner was more temperate, but he spoke with the reporter in the morning!)

I promised random thoughts. First one. If you've met Congresswoman Giffords, she's your friend. I've met a fair number of politicians over the years, but never one like Gabby. No pretense, and lots of fun and funny. (And she must have a photographic memory for faces and names.) Plenty smart and strong, but I've never seen her proving her smarts by putting someone down or building herself up. Just a really nice person. (BTW, it takes a certain amount of confidence to be a young woman in what is still a man's world, slight in stature, and call yourself, and let others call you, Gabby!)

Big deal? Yes, as I believe Gabby's personality plays a significant role in our reaction to the horrid events. Of course, I can't be proved right or wrong, but if Tucson was represented by someone who more closely fits "central casting" for a Member of Congress, our community's reaction might be different. (Nothing about Judge John Roll, the other prominent victim, changes this theory. Another exceptional person, totally approachable and friendly, albeit in a way very different from Gabby's.)

Second one. About the criticism of the memorial service:  Get over it, critics. Everyone mourns differently. The Right Wing owns this tragedy no more than it owned 9/11 (despite its claims to the contrary), and if the service at McKale Center on Wednesday didn't suit someone's taste, all he or she had to do was leave or, more likely, turn off the television set. Yes, if weird is a synonym for unfamiliar, the opening by Dr. Carlos Gonzales was weird. Of course, weird is not a synonym for unfamiliar! Dr. Gonzales is an American with a non-Anglo Christian heritage--like so many people in Tucson, Arizona--and, like Christians, Jews, Moslems and others, he follows a tradition that he knows. That he shared it with tens of millions is very cool. That a few people found this weird--yes, you, Brit Hume, among others--is very sad.

Third one. About the tone, and all that. I heard no public official blame the shooter any less because of the intemperance we've all experienced over the past two years. (Yes, the Sheriff of Pima County is a public official--and not a very liberal one at that--and no, he did no such thing. Read what he said!) One group in this country has gotten very good at taking what other say, amping up the words and, then, screaming about the unfairness of it all. In my workaday world we call this a "straw man argument." Throw something out there, blow it down and call it a day! It's crap in a courtroom, and it's crap on cable, too.

On the same issue, I am reminded of Hamlet and "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Yes, campaign is a political term with origins in the language of war. Yes, Democrats have run ads with bullseyes. Yes, sometimes people associated with Daily Kos and other liberal blogs forget every mother's adage:  "If you don't have something nice to say, be quiet."

Agreed, politics is a tough game. But there's a difference between a bullseye and what's seen through a rifle scope. (And no, Sarah Palin, the surveyor's scope bit won't sell!) And when a candidate in Florida shoots at a target with with the initials DWS (for Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz), that's not OK. Nor is candidate Jesse Kelly holding an event that gets promoted in this way:

Get on Target for Victory in November
Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office
Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly

It wasn't OK when it happened, and it can't be OK after January 8, 2011. We're all better than this! Really, we are! And as for Daily Kos, does the Far Right really want to compare some blogger with many of its elected leaders and its propagandists. I mean really, some guy posts something and you all want to liken him to Glenn or Rush or Newt or Sarah? (In passing, on the Jesse Kelly event, who gets off on shooting an M16? I'm sure I'd feel like a fool, hanging out with a bunch of guys and being all macho with guns!)

Fourth one. Last thought. The Tea Party crowd swears by the Constitution, but I cannot recall another election cycle in which we heard more chatter about amending the Constitution, all of it offered by Tea Party candidates. They suggest doing away with the 16th and 17th Amendments (taxing authority and direct election of Senators, respectively), the 21st Amendment (which repealed the 18th Amendment, which instituted Prohibition), and those portions of the 14th Amendment that make people citizens if they're born here and subject to our jurisdiction when they're born. For a crowd that thinks the Constitution is Biblical in its import, they seem to have issues!

I have an issue, too. My issue is the 2nd Amendment. Why is it so sacrosanct? In fact, courts have routinely allowed for reasonable restrictions on the right to bear arms, but with the National Rifle Association in control of state legislatures, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, the notion that any legislative body would adopt the most minimal of restrictions seems unimaginable. Yet, we have a problem that seems obvious:  More guns than any other developed nation and more gun deaths. We can't fix the problem because of the 2nd Amendment, so we need to repeal the 2nd Amendment. Fat chance, of course, but why is the 2nd Amendment not worthy of thought, when those who swear most loudly their adherence to the Constitution want so badly to rewrite it?     

I could say much more, about so many other things, but I think I've said all I need to say, save one thing. Be kind to your children, your spouse, your friends and others. If we all learned anything from what happened last week, we now know a quick trip to the grocery store, a visit with a friend or any other daily activity can turn everyone's world upside down.   

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Don't Sell Us Out!!

I met with a client not long ago and heard a story I can't let go of. My client's business interfaces with the federal government. One of his employees failed to comply with a notice requirement associated with a regulation. A screw-up, absolutely, and a violation of a federal regulation, you bet! That all said, the violation was insignificant and, when it was discovered, my client's people self-reported the violation. What followed was Kafka-esque, and only ended with the payment of a very, very large fine. The fine bore no relationship to the harm caused by the violation. (X times nothing, with nothing representing the harm, will always equal nothing.) I imagine my client could have fought the assessed penalty, but the business depends on a positive relationship with the government. Good sense said, Pay the man! Good sense prevailed.

Several years ago another client had a problem with a different federal agency. (The problem related to a  signature not being notarized on an administrative appeal. For want of the notarization, the appeal would have been granted, according to the agency.) Not so dependent on the good graces of the government, this client had me sue the federal government to avoid a six-figure penalty. A very nice fellow from Washington, DC defended the suit by filing a motion to dismiss. Lots of blather in the motion about the need for compliance with laws and all that, and about courts not interfering with administrative regulations. I gave as good as I got and, finally, we had a hearing on the motion. The judge (the late John Roll) asked the Washington lawyer--he flew out to Tucson for this hearing--to address anything not addressed in  his memorandum. He couldn't and, after fumbling around for a while, Judge Roll asked me to speak. I started to explain why my client had a right to have the court test the propriety of the penalty, whereupon Judge Roll said:  "I agree." He also suggested, from the bench, that we discuss a resolution.

The case settled for about $10,000 a few days later. When I spoke with the lawyer after we reached an agreement, I asked him about the regulation, as he was the lawyer for the government who was tasked with enforcement. He said the agency had promulgated the regulation and was giving it a "test drive." I asked him about his success rate. "Not so good," he said. "I'll bet," I thought.

Government has the power to solve problems for real people. In fact, many problems our society faces, slogans and buzz words aside, can only be solved by the federal government. So, when I hear about nonsense like the fine my client was (effectively) forced to pay, and when I have to file a lawsuit to avoid a ridiculously large penalty being assessed because someone forgot to carefully read some instructions, I ask myself, How does the government expect those of us who believe government is a force for good expect us to sell that position to others? How can I tell my clients they ought to believe government can be a positive force in our society when the federal government takes their money, and only takes it because it can?

There are millions of people like me who believe government makes people's lives better, but we also know government works best when people believe it can solve more problems than it creates. So, government, be smart whenever you can be. Focus on long term impacts. Make friends, not enemies. You'll be more effective, and we'll all  be better off.