Monthly Archives: October 2014

WHAT WILL THIS ELECTION MEAN?

There’s a positive and a negative answer to this question, so we’ll try to examine both points of view.

This Election Will Be Very Meaningful

That’s what all the candidates and the fundraisers tell us.

The Republicans will undoubtedly retain the majority in the House.  If they capture the Senate as well, they will retire Harry Reid, who has blocked all bills coming out of the House.  Republicans may be able to pass significant legislation on immigration, healthcare or tax reform, for example.  The president will use his veto power against almost all Republican legislation, but that will position the Republicans to improve their image and position them well with the electorate for 2016.

A Republican Senate will also be far more influential in moderating any of Obama’s Supreme Court and/or other judicial nominees.

This election will spend the most money for the lowest turnout (particularly on the Democratic side) in our history.

This Election Will Be Meaningless

For openers, it is projected that the 2014 mid-term election will cost over five billion dollars, and that’s congressional races only.

Obama has been in Southern California almost every two weeks this fall to raise money.  Candidates don’t want his joint appearances, but he is an incredible fundraising machine.

That’s about 40% more than we spent in the 2010 mid-term and we’ll probably end up with the same polarized situation we have now.

The Republicans will maintain control of the House and the Tea Party conservatives will continue to oppose the views of the more moderate members of the Republican party.

If the Senate stays Democratic (unlikely), the same division will exist in the Republican party and Obama won’t do anymore to work with Congress than he has.  That result will be exactly what we have now—nothing happening!

If the Republicans manage to take over the Senate, I don’t believe much more will happen.  The Republicans still won’t agree on very much and Obama will demonize them even more.  He will use his veto more than any other president and he will continue to circumvent Congress with executive orders.

The Republicans could easily squander their control of both houses of Congress by not being able to agree on important issues.

The California Propositions

As I previously have told you, I tend to be against almost all propositions on the ballot.  I’m not completely alone in this feeling.  George Skelton, the Dean of Sacramento columnists, writing in the L.A. Times, said about ballot propositions:

“The Legislature and governor get paid to deal with such things.  And when they do, we’re usually better served.  Our elected representatives can hold public hearings, engage in thoughtful debate, iron out kinks and compromise.  Proposed laws can be filtered through a system of checks and balances.

“That is, when the politicians can muster the courage to tackle tough issues.

“The flip side is that it can be argued the Legislature did deal with the concept—and rejected it.  That’s what California’s century-old initiative system is designed for, but it’s prone to produce flawed laws.”

Almost all the ballot measures are proposed and financed by special interests for their own benefit; and the advertising for the propositions are confusing and deceptive.  Having said that, here’s my take on this year’s six propositions (thank goodness there’s only six):

Prop 1 – Water Bond Funding for Water Quality:  Vote YES.  Will save money for local governments and improve water infrastructure.

Prop 2 – State Budget Stabilization (Constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature).  Vote YES.  To save money during good times and prevent tax increases during dry times.

Prop 45 – Healthcare Insurance:  Vote NO.  Creates more government regulations, gives too much power to the insurance commissioner.  Sponsored by trial lawyers.

Prop 46 – Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors:  Vote NO.  Another trial lawyer boondoggle.

Prop 47 – Criminal Sentences, Misdemeanor Penalties:  Vote NO.  Would reduce penalties for drug and theft crimes, and another initiative that should never have been on the state ballot.

Prop 48 – Indian Gaming Compacts:  Vote NO.  Will create 4,000 jobs, but it is an off-reservation casino.

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PRIVILEGE AND PREJUDICE

I’m a little late to the discussion but I’ve been thinking about it and I think I may have some comments to contribute.

Back in late August, Bill O’Reilly on Fox News took the position that there was not “white privilege” in America.  Charles Blow, a columnist for the N.Y. Times, took exception to that premise.  He buttressed his disagreement with some snarky personal comments about O’Reilly.  Unfortunately, that is often the leaning of liberals.

So, let’s begin by understanding what is meant by “privilege.”  Privilege means a special advantage or immunity or benefit not enjoyed by an individual or class.

The corollary to privilege I think is “bias” and “prejudice,” both of which, I believe, make the thesis easier to understand and discuss.

Is there “privilege” bias and “prejudice” in America?  ABSOLUTELY!  We’ll use the words inter-changeably because they speak to essentially the same subject.  I don’t agree with O’Reilly although he goes on to present some excellent points we’ll get to later.  I don’t wholly agree with Blow either because he wants to hide behind the victim screen, instead of concentrating on the opportunity.

I do believe there is bias in education; “Ivy League schools are better.”  Stanford and Harvard are better law schools.  Does that mean their students are smarter?  Maybe, but not guaranteed!  And you went to what school?  There’s bias against gays and transgenders; prejudice against the handicapped.

I believe there is bias against and toward Asians.  I believe there is prejudice against non-legacy applicants for schools, jobs, clubs, etc.  There is bias and prejudice in almost every facet of our society.

Don’t misunderstand.  There are varying degrees of prejudice and certainly at the top of the list is what the black community has endured.

There is no other country anywhere on this planet, however, that has worked to counter these prejudices and offers the opportunity to face your handicaps, your obstacles or the manifestations of the prejudice directed against you and still achieve success.

In a very small way, I have encountered small bits of prejudice in my life.  I am Jewish, not in a very religious way but as the progeny of an ethnic background—lost out on two jobs that I know of because of anti Semitism.  Probably just as well, I have very poor eyesight—couldn’t read anything written on a blackboard in school and couldn’t see my neighbor’s paper to cheat if I wanted to.

When I took stock, I didn’t dwell on the negatives.  I knew I couldn’t be an airplane pilot or a sports announcer or president of the U.S.  I looked at what I could do and tried to capitalize on that.

It may seem easier to sink into the “victim trap” than motivate yourself to work a little harder to move up.

O’Reilly went on in his discussion to opine more extensively.  He said, “Just 13% of Asian children live in single-parent homes compared to a whopping 55% for blacks and 21% for whites.”  That’s why Asian-Americans, who often have to overcome a language barrier, are succeeding more than African-Americans and white Americans.  Their families are intact and education is paramount.

All American children must learn, not only academics, but also civil behavior—right from wrong—as well as how to speak and how to act respectfully in public.  If African-American children do not know those things, they will likely fail as adults.  They will be poor, they will be angry, and often they will be looking for someone to blame.

One caveat:  the Asian-American experience has historically not been nearly as tough as the African-American experience.  Slavery is unique and it has harmed black Americans to a degree that is still being felt today.

In order to succeed in a competitive society, every American has to overcome the obstacles they face.  Here is where the African-American leadership in America is failing.  Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, they provide excuses for failure.  The racial hustlers blame white privilege and an unfair society—a terrible country.

So the message is, it’s not the individual’s fault if they abandon their children, if they become substance abusers…if they are criminals.  No, it’s not their fault; it’s society’s fault.  That’s the big lie that’s keeping many African-Americans from reaching their full potential.

The truth is that Asian-American households make far more money than anyone else.  The median income for Asians is close to $69,000 a year; it’s $57,000 for whites and $33,000 for blacks.

Eighty-nine percent of Asian-Americans graduate from high school, compared to 86% for whites and just 69% for blacks.  That means 31% of African-Americans have little chance to succeed in the free marketplace because they are high-school dropouts.

Until personal responsibility and a cultural change takes place, millions of African-Americans will struggle and their anger, some of it justified, will seethe and grow.

The federal government cannot fix the problem, only a powerful message of personal responsibility can turns things around.

Blow, on the other hand, dismisses the Asian record of achievement as due more to immigration policies as compared to the dehumanization and savagery of slavery encountered by immigrant blacks.  He then goes on to accuse O’Reilly of pitting one race against another.

My occasional blog partner, Gary Wechter, added an interesting perspective, when he said:

“With regard to privilege, I think there will always be those with an advantage over others.  Rich folks (white or black) are privileged over poor folks.  Attractive folks (white or black) are privileged over plan folks.  Tall folks (white or black) have an advantage over short folks.  And, yes, sometimes white folks will see some privilege over black or Asian folks, and that will never change, but it’s no longer a serious impediment to achieving success.

“Discrimination is part of life and continues to be part of business.  In my business, I always wanted my receptionist to be pretty and upbeat.  That discriminated against homely girls (and against any male applicants), but I thought it was important that the first person someone encountered when arriving at my office was attractive and upbeat.

“In the culture of my youth, we never saw a black police or fireman.  On television, I never saw a black person in a commercial.  In the movies, there was never a black leading man.  I never heard of any rich black business person.  I never saw or heard of a black doctor or dentist.  I could go on, but haven’t things changed?”

We as a society should continue to work at eliminating as much privilege, bias and prejudice.  We have made much progress, but there’s still more work to be done.

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THE LIGHTER SIDE OF TRAVEL

When you travel as much as we have, you enjoy a variety of experiences; almost all a joy, some a little tense, and a few that cause a chuckle, particularly looking back on them.

Montreal

We arrived by train from Toronto and followed the signs downstairs to get a taxi to the Fairmont Hotel.  There was a short line; and when our turn came, we jumped into the back seat of a cab.  The driver put our luggage in the trunk popped behind the wheel and in French asked where we wanted to go.

We said the Fairmont Hotel.  He looked confused and asked us again in French.  We had an impasse.  Since we were holding up the Taxi line, the dispatcher came over and listened to the driver’s explanation of the delay.  He then opened the back door and asked us where we wanted to go.  Again, we told him the Fairmont.  He looked at us a bit incredulously and said, “If you walk over and take that escalator up one flight, you’ll be there.”

Two Schwartz’s on a Plane

We were on our way to a consulting assignment in Romania and realized our seat assignments were in different places.  Gabriele went to her seat and found a passenger named Schwartz as her seat mate.

Delta didn’t get their Schwartz’s straight but it all worked out.  The other Schwartz was agreeable to trading seats with me.

Soup in Hawaii

We were in a bar/restaurant in one of Hawaii’s top hotels.  I asked the waitress if the seafood chowder had cream in it.  She checked and said, “Yes,” it did.  I am partial to red (Manhattan) chowder.  I don’t like cream.

Well, I noticed they also had tomato soup on the menu, so I asked if they could put the seafood from the white (New England) chowder in the tomato soup.

The waitress again sought out the maitre-d/manager and came back to say, “Yes,” they could do that.

What arrived was two bowls of soup; white chowder with seafood and tomato soup along with a bill for two bowls of soup.

Jacket at Dinner

We made a reservation for dinner in the main dining room on the Seabourn Cruise in the Adriatic.  When we arrived, the maitre-d explained that all gentlemen (I don’t know why he thought that included me) had to have a jacket.

I never bring a jacket on vacation and won’t book a trip that requires one.

After a short, heated discussion, I said, “Let’s go,” at which point one of the maitre-d assistants brought out a jacket.  I won’t describe it but I certainly did not want to put it on.

We were escorted to a table with the jacket carried by the assistant maitre-d and placed on the back of my chair.  I never touched it.  If you think that was dumb.

The dining room opened at 7pm but you could not make a reservation to sit with another couple before 7:30pm.  Bye, bye, Seabourn!

My Double in China

We were on a day cruise on the Li River outside of Guilin, China.  It was an interesting cruise past fertile farmlands and those rounded top hills you see in Chinese paintings.  I was amazed those round hills really exist.

At one point, we were standing, talking with a small group of people.  When we introduced ourselves, one woman said, “Are you putting me on?  I just met Arthur Schwartz.  He’s standing right over there.”

You can imagine my surprise.  I went over and introduced myself to the new Arthur Schwartz.  He was from Palos Verdes, California, just a few miles down the highway from us.

Travel Dynamics Goofed

We took a cruise across the Great Lakes with this small cruise line.  We had trouble communicating with their New York office, but the trip was great.

I subsequently noticed they had a cruise down the west coast of Africa, ending with a land tour in Mali that went to Timbuktu.

Ever since grade school, I was enamored with a somewhat romanticized vision of Timbuktu on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.

I was talking with the cruise line’s N.Y. office in October 2010 and trying to get information on their trip for December 2011.  It was a struggle, but finally, with the help of my travel agent, I said, “Okay, we’ll make a reservation.”

When the paperwork arrived, the trip was for December 2010, not 2011.

So after a lot of scurrying around and making some changes, we decided to go that year, not the next.

It was a fortuitous mistake and the right decision.  In addition to being a great trip, by 2012 you couldn’t go to Mali as well as a number of ports in West Africa because the Islamic fundamentalists had erupted.

Fun in Romania

I mentioned our plane trip to Romania with Gabriele sitting next to another Schwartz.  The fun really started when we got there.

We overnighted in Bucharest in late September 1996.  We were on the way to Baia Mare, a small city of 150,000, near the northern border with Ukraine.

In Bucharest, you could see all the bullet holes in the government buildings where the communists had been routed.  The only place to eat with a menu in English was at the Pizza Hut which also had soft serve ice cream.

At the Baia Mare airport, we were surrounded by a group of AK47 soldiers.  What did they think we were going to attack in that place?

In Baia Mare, several hundred miles from the Black Sea, there was no milk, but bananas in every tiny grocery.  Never figured that out!

We stayed in an apartment on the 9th floor of an apartment/business office building.  The elevator didn’t work too often so we got a lot of exercise.  The gas heat had not been turned on yet because the bill had not been paid.  There was an electric heater in the living room.  That helped take the chill out in the morning.

The towels were polyester, so they wouldn’t absorb much water.

We had a single burner hot plate and water passing through an electric ark to have a hot shower.  When all three devices were turned on one morning, we blew the fuse and unable to dry ourselves, we were ready to go home.

There was a small foyer when you entered the unit with three doors.  On the left was the bedroom, straight ahead was the living room, and on the right was the entry to the kitchen and shower area.

One night late in our stay, there was a festival across the street and bands playing ‘till all hours.  We couldn’t sleep so we took our mattresses and propped them against the walls in the foyer.  They were too big so we had a lot of laughs and still couldn’t sleep.

Romania was a hoot and a holler.  What a memory!  Oh, I forgot we were very disturbed after a week or so when we got very sleepy sitting in the living room each night.  We inquired about seeing a doctor, but they told us we didn’t need to.  It was the lead smelter in the center of town.

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MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS – PART V – WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MENTAL CARE SYSTEM?

Dr. Keith Albow, a psychiatrist and part of the Fox News medical team, is an outspoken critic of the deplorable state and disintegration of our mental  health care system.  He writes:

“The reason we see a surge of violent mentally ill people is that we have systematically dismantled the mental health care system in America so completely that it is now routine for psychotic people to be treated by entry level social workers in community mental health centers, turned away from emergency rooms or discharged from hospital inpatient units if they simply promise not to murder anyone.  A person who believes the CIA is following him, has a history of violent crime, voices homicidal ideation and is on a half-a-dozen medications could easily spend only 48 hours in a hospital, be seen primarily by nurses and social workers (and only for a total of 30 minutes by a psychiatrist) and then be discharged with nowhere to obtain his medications and no one supervising those medications.  That’s how bad things have gotten.

“In fact, prisons are now becoming de facto mental hospitals since mental hospitals have become revolving doors that medicate people for a few days or a week and then discharge them, at the insistence of third-party insurers, often without proper follow-up and on the wrong medications.

“The following list is not exhaustive, but, will give you an important window into just how bad our mental health care system has become.

“1) The art of helping understand psychiatric illness is not available to the vast majority of families but is reserved for people who can find the small number of professionals who are expert in that skill set, many of whom would never be paid by insurance companies at all, or given only three or six or a dozen hours to treat a very disturbed patient.

“Not only have insurance companies and the Medi-Cal system demanded that empathy be dispensed in tiny doses, in favor of ten minute medication appointments, but many training programs for psychiatric residents have responded by curtailing education in that healing art such that most new psychiatrists have never been in therapy themselves and have limited ability to perform it.

“2) The demands of insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid and every public insurance program, has been to push down the educational level of clinicians more and more.

“People with complex histories of abuse and neglect and extremely toxic interpersonal dynamics are now routinely in the case loads of mental health counselors with little more than college degrees and social workers and nurses, many of whom are very talented and extremely dedicated people, but simply do not have the training to do what psychiatrists trained for at least eight years in medical school and residency could do for them.

“3) The holistic view of the patient—essential to understanding his view of himself and others and assessing whether dangerous behavior could result—has all but disappeared, having yielded to simplifying and splitting the patient into someone with some emotional problems who should talk to a counselor about his feelings once a week (or less) and someone who needs medicine to think clearly or stop hallucinating or stop being paranoid who should visit a doctor or nurse ten minutes a month for prescriptions.

“4) The use of inpatient psychiatry units in which more sophisticated assessments of psychiatric patients are performed is now mostly relegated to rare hospitals that can cost as much as $20,000 or $40,000 or more per month, which people must pay themselves since insurance companies will not.

“5) There is no system in place—at all—that routes very sick mentally ill individuals, especially those at risk for violence, to forensic psychiatry professions truly skilled to evaluate them.  In any case, the numbers of such professionals are extremely low and their use largely limited to evaluating and treating those who have already committed sex crimes or very violent acts, including murder.

“Clinicians in ERs and in clinics, whose resources are already stretched dangerously thin—are loathe to file the paperwork that would force hospitalization on the unwilling or force medications on individuals who need them and refuse them.

“6) There is no effective, ongoing line of communication between law enforcement officials and psychiatry professionals about the status of dangerous patients, even those who have already broken the law. The expectation of most probation officers foe sex offenders or those mentally ill people charged with violent crimes including guns is a letter faxed to them once a month stating that visits are ongoing—if that.  And if the letter were not to arrive, many probation officials would not take notice or take action.

 “7) In most communities, there are no real psychological/psychiatric resources available within the schools, nor any established and effective line of communication between the schools and outside mental health professionals or agencies.

“8) In most states there is no way to arrange court-ordered, involuntary outpatient use of medications even if someone is very violent or has reported extremely violent thoughts in the hospital, even if that person is psychotic and also addicted to cocaine or heroin, and even if that person is court-ordered to take such antipsychotic medications in the hospital.

“Once that person hits the streets, he or she is too often free to never visit a psychiatrist again, to never take another medication, and to never be drug-tested.

“The switch from talk therapy to medications has swept psychiatric practices and hospitals.  A 2005 government survey found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to patients, a share that had been falling for years and has most likely fallen more since.  Psychiatric hospitals that once offered patients months of talk therapy now discharge them within days with only pills.

“Recent studies suggest that talk therapy may be as good as or better than drugs in the treatment of depression, but fewer than half of depressed patients now get such therapy compared to 20 years ago.  Insurance company reimbursement rates and policies that discourage talk therapy are part of the reason.  Additionally, a psychiatrist can earn $150 for three 15-minute medication visits compared with $90 for a 45-minute talk therapy session.  Counseling from psychologists and social workers—who, unlike psychiatrists, do not attend medical school—is the reason that their talk therapy is priced at a lower rate.”

Keep in mind, Dr. Albow is a psychiatrist, so his comments, although generally correct, are skewed from the point of view that he sees the need for more psychiatric care to be the biggest hole in the system.

Two other points should be noted:  first, as in any medical scenario, an advocate is needed, perhaps more so, with mentally ill patients; and, second, some people have benefited by learning how to navigate the system, no easy task.

Next month in our series finale on mental health, we’ll try to outline what needs to be done, as well as what is being done to address this crisis.

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VIVA LA DIFFERENCE

Anyone who has been in any kind of relationship—be it social, personal or business—knows that men and women approach and speak about issues very differently.  Communication between the sexes operates on different planes which muddle their messages and often exacerbate the differences.

Writing in the L.A. Times recently, Sandy Banks relayed a conversation she had with Deborah Tannen, Linguist Professor at Georgetown University on this subject.  Ms. Banks was reacting to what she perceived as somewhat snarky comments from some male readers on a previous column.

“In conservational patter,” Tannen said, “men tend to be sarcastic and more adversarial than women…It’s kind of a dialect thing, the way they expect people to talk to one another.  Neither style is good or bad,” she said.  “It’s a cultural ritual, not a matter of individual deficiencies.”  And there are, of course, wide variations within male and female groups.

Still, the pattern of differences can make for confusion over meaning and intent.

Men use language to seek status and independence, women to seek intimacy and connection.  “That’s a huge gulf,” Tannen said.  Online discourse seems to magnify the gap.  Research has shown that men tend to take a more combative approach online, while women use more affirmative speech, supporting and acknowledging others’ comments.

When Indiana University professor Susan Herring studied male and female posts to online forums, she found that men tended to assert their opinions as facts, while women framed theirs as “suggestions, offers and other non-assertive acts.”  It’s easy to consider the research a reflection of timeworn stereotypes:  Men are competitive, women collaborative.  Men are direct, women indirect.  Men use language to flex their power, women to build relationships.

But those linguistic traits may have evolutionary underpinnings;  Our survival depended on males warding off strangers and females keeping peace in the clan.

Some believe the gender differences have biological roots.  As early as preschool, girls use language to share secrets and tell stories among a small group of friends; boys play in large hierarchal groups and are expected to use language to exhibit skills, display knowledge and assert authority.  Others blame a power imbalance entrenched in cultural standards;  Women have lower status in many societies, so are less commanding in speech and manner than most men.

“It’s not an easy thing to talk about,” Tannen acknowledged.  “When you say something is ‘typical’ of any group, they’re apt to feel maligned.”  But if we’re not willing to address the differences, our most important conversations are at risk of veering off the rails.

After talking with Tanner, I felt a bit chagrined about the petulant emails I’d dash off to some of those disapproving men.  I presumed they were talking down to me because I am a woman.  But maybe those men were just talking to me like they talk to other men.  Some were as offended by my responses as I’d been by their missives.

The “You’re not serious?” guy was genuinely surprised that I considered his opening salvo an insult.  “Not sure where I was sarcastic, swore or offended you in my comments,” he wrote in response to my response—which he found “offensive in tome to a paid subscriber.”

When I reread his email, after I’d calmed down, I realized there was nothing in the five sentences he’d written that should have felt like an attack.  I’d considered his “You’re not serious?” line as a sarcastic attempt to belittle me, when it might just have been his way of getting my attention and amplifying his dissent.

I apologized for lashing out at him, and confessed that I was tired of fielding emails from readers who feel entitled to be nasty because we disagree.  He seemed to understand that.  “I think perhaps you do have an oversensitive reaction to this topic,” he wrote.  I think he was right.  At the end of his last email he offered his own relational coda:  “Hope you have a better day!”

It is important to understand these differences, so you can work at not having emotional responses to the styles or the words and be better able to harmonize the ongoing relationships.

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