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December 2013

If you're the sort of person who's fascinated by the lives of the rich and famous, your dream job may well be the one that Jason Beckerman already has. Beckerman is the ranking attorney with TMZ, which, of course, is in the business of breaking news about all your favorite stars - Miley Cyrus and Kanye West included. One of Beckerman's responsibilities is keeping the network's television shows out of trouble. (After all, when you deal in gossip, defamation suits are an occupational hazard.) Another is to appear on camera from time to time as an in-house commentator - which, I suppose, makes him something of a star ("TMZ's Troubleshooter").

To any lawyer who's locked into estate planning or litigating slip-and-falls, this is likely to sound awfully glamorous. But Beckerman himself is not especially impressed by celebrities, nor is he strongly drawn to the limelight. Still, TMZ does have a certain manic energy that keeps him engaged. And the work is at least as socially responsible as his first job out of law school, in which he represented, among others, big tobacco companies.

When we decided to profile Beckerman for this month's cover story, we realized we needed a writer who could relate to the world of entertainment. Which is why we went with Stan Sinberg. Not only is he an award-winning journalist, but a couple decades ago he co-wrote a musical comedy revue called For Whom the Bridge Tolls that was performed in the Bay Area for twelve years. He also worked for a time as a street performer in Boston. Clearly, show business is in his blood.

Also in this issue, Sacramento-based writer Sasha Abramsky explores the largely hidden world of California's dependency courts ("The Children Left Behind"), where families, lawyers, and the presiding judges routinely face wrenching choices. Even under the best of circumstances, abused, neglected, and abandoned children seldom find happy endings here. But, as Abramsky shows, severe budget cuts have made a difficult situation considerably worse.

Abramsky, by the way, is no stranger to those who've been left behind. His latest book, which chronicles the plight of this country's poor, has drawn favorable reviews, including one in September from the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times. It's called The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives (Nation Books).

And finally, we include an excerpt from my recent conversation with Rutparana Mohanty ("Fighting for Women in India"). A fearless advocate, Mohanty not only fights for the rights of women and their families in her home country, but also runs a shelter for sexually exploited women and girls.

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