Month: October 2013

Detroit Bankruptcy: What Gov. Snyder Will Say in Court

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With Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder scheduled to testify next Monday in the Detroit bankruptcy trial, there is a great deal of speculation regarding what he might say.

The issue being debated, of course, is whether the city is entitled to court protection from its creditors under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Despite what we see in movies and television, and read in legal procedurals, very little new information ever surfaces in a trial. Moreover, given that the governor will appear well prepared and rehearsed, it is likely we will hear a recitation of the key messages that underlie his approval of the process.

And his position is clear. “It is clear that the financial emergency in Detroit cannot be addressed outside of such a filing, and it is the only reasonable alternative that is available,” he wrote back in July in support of the move. “The city’s financial emergency cannot be satisfactorily rectified in a reasonable period of time absent this filing.”

In his letter, which approved emergency manager Kevyn D. Orr’s recommendation that the city file, Gov. Snyder supported his position with four distinct, but interlocking, messages. The messages and key support points are listed below. They probably will drive his testimony on Monday.

Inability to meet obligations to its citizens.

Within this category, expect to governor to term Detroit’s woes as “unique,” and to say that services can’t be cut … and that revenue needs to rise to provide more service. Simple, right, just cut spending? Gov. Snyder probably will cite the following to demonstrate that’s not possible.

• Detroiters wait an average of 58 minutes for police to respond to a call, compared with the national average of 11 minutes.
• Only 8.7 percent of cases are solved, compared with a Michigan-wide average of nearly 31 percent.
• Just one-third of the city’s ambulances were in service in the first quarter of the year.
• Some 40 percent of the city’s streetlights didn’t function in the quarter.
• There are nearly 80,000 abandoned structures in the city.

Inability to meet obligations to its creditors.

It already has been widely reported that Detroit has more than $18 billion in accrued debt. The governor certainly will repeat that number numerous times. He also will tell the court the following: The city’s tax rates are at their current legal limit and that — even if it could legally increase taxes — Detroiters obviously could not pay more. So, we also can expect him to sum it up by noting that Detroit, even with the highest tax rate in the state, has been unable to meet its basic obligations.

Failure to meet obligations to citizens creates failure to meet obligations to creditors.

This is the linkage point, and Gov. Snyder likely will point out that the city’s inability to serve its citizens has in turn led to a 63 percent decline in population – with a 28 percent decline since 2000. And, for those in the court who might not be following, he will point out that a lack of services causes a decline in population, which causes a decreasing tax base, which causes the need for bankruptcy protection. Linkage. And he will state what should be obvious: The city is stuck in the middle. It cannot save money by reducing services and it cannot raise money through higher taxes.

Only one feasible path offers a way out.

Finally, the court appearance – and any subsequent conversation with the media – should conclude with the final message that bankruptcy is the only available path. And, smartly, expect him to soften this stark message by wrapping it in “personal blanket.” And that means he will tell the court that bankruptcy will provide solutions for the citizens of the city, who deserve to know what the city can provide. And he will hold out a promise of the city reinventing itself without the heavy weight of debt.

It has been more than three months since the governor’s letter. Don’t expect his key messages to have changed much.

Single Sided Deafness: SoundBite Provides New Hope

SoundBite_SystemEach year, Single Sided Deafness, or SSD, afflicts approximately 200 persons out of every million inhabitants in the world. The onset of the condition – which refers to significant or total hearing loss in one ear, often accompanied by severe vertigo – is sudden.   It also is permanent.

In informing their patients of the condition, doctors rarely provide a good explanation.

Some individuals are told their SSD ties back to earlier cases of measles or mumps.  Or, perhaps, a trauma that seemed trivial at the time.  Others are told their hearing loss may relate to a tumor or to a hereditary disorder.  Still others simply are told that it is an unexplained condition that affects adults in their 40s – and that there is no good explanation.

For many suffering from SSD, the condition is life changing.  And simple, everyday tasks become challenging.  All sounds come from one direction – the hearing ear – and those with SSD find themselves stepping out into traffic, not knowing where the siren is coming from when driving, or interrupting or completely ignoring the person sitting to their deaf side.

They also find social settings extremely uncomfortable and, ultimately, something to avoid.  Cross-table talk in a restaurant becomes impossible, and seating configurations become more important than the menu.  Large events – such as cocktail parties, business receptions and wedding receptions – ultimately become events to avoid as the embarrassment and worry of not hearing becomes overwhelming.

Until recently, the remedial options available to SSD sufferers were limited. Bone-anchored hearing devices, involving a small titanium implant, were one choice.  The other was the CROS aid, a system involving a transmitter in the deaf ear and a receiver in the hearing ear.

Now, however, there is a third option: the SoundBite Hearing System.  SoundBite, developed by Sonitus Medical, a seven-year-old medical-device company based in San Mateo, Calif., is the world’s first non-surgical and removable hearing solution using the long-established principle of bone conduction to transmit sound via the teeth.  SoundBite is considered to be a prosthetic device, rather than a hearing aid, which usually places it in a more-favorable light with insurance companies.

The SoundBite system consists of a portable in-the-mouth hearing device – custom made to fit around the upper, left or right, back teeth – and a small behind-the-ear microphone unit. There is no dental work, or modifications to the teeth, required.

The device works because it replaces the function of the middle ear, cochlea, or auditory nerve. As long as one cochlea is functional, SoundBite enables sound to travel via the teeth, through the bones, to the functioning cochlea, bypassing the middle and outer ear entirely.

SoundBite doesn’t solve the direction problem.  The sound still is coming in the hearing ear, as the bone-conduction process is sending the sound to the hearing ear.  But it does enable the SSD sufferer to hear the sounds coming from his or her deaf side.  The improvement also is heavily dependent on the level of hearing on the “good” side.

Patients receiving the device often have a companion shoot video of them using the device for the first time in the audiologist’s office.  Their smiles are wide and the sense of amazement is real.

Their lives have changed once again.

Ageism Part 2: Rejection Letters

So, as it turns out, my acquaintance Lenny reads this blog.  And, because he is in his early 60s and not working, he had plenty of time – and sufficient interest – to read my recent posting [“Ageism: Rampant and Spreading”] regarding the spread of age discrimination.

Lenny – like other people his age – is having a difficult time securing work.  This, despite the fact that he is highly experienced, has extensive expertise and is still very healthy and vibrant.

After reading my blog – and seeing my mention of “robojections,” those automated rejection notices that companies send you when you no longer are a candidate – Lenny contacted me to vent.  And to let me know how annoyed he is at the whole “robojection” process.

The following represents just of few of the “robojections” he has received (and his commentary on each):

Robojection:  We received materials from many experienced applicants as yourself, and it was a difficult decision selecting the candidate whose background most closely related to the requirements of this particular position.

Lenny Comment:  Apparently not that difficult!

Robojection:  Thank you for your interest in the position.  We’ve rehired a former associate of ours to take the position.  Good luck in the future.

Lenny Comment:  Thanks.  Maybe I will be as lucky as your former associate in the future.

Robojection:  We are currently pursuing candidates whose skills, background and/or seniority more closely fit the requirements for this position.

Lenny Comment:  Seniority?  If that were true, I would be coming in for a meeting.

Robojection:  We regret to inform you that the position has been filled. 

Lenny Comment:  You regret?  Why?

Robojection:  Please forgive the form letter, but the enormous volume of inquiries we receive obliges us to respond in this manner. Thank you and best wishes in your future endeavors.

Lenny Comment:  I don’t care about the type of letter.  I care about not getting a chance.  Oh, and I’m not looking for endeavors.  I’m looking for a job.

Robojection:  Your background and qualifications have been given careful review with respect to this position. Although you were not selected for this position, we appreciate your desire to expand your career.

Lenny Comment:  The only thing that was given careful consideration was my age.  Do they really think I’m trying to expand my career at this point?

Robojection: The hiring department has thoroughly reviewed your application for this position and has selected another applicant that best meets the needs for the position.

Lenny Comment:  “Who,” not “that.”  You may not be human but we are.

Robojection:  We wanted to notify you that the role has been filled or closed.

Lenny Comment:  I guess this one is the dual-purpose response.

Robojection:  Again, we sincerely appreciate your interest and pray that God will bless you as you continue to pursue your career goals.

Lenny Comment:  Oh, now I feel better.

As mentioned in my last piece, ageism is rampant and spreading.  And, apparently, works well with high technology.

Observations: Living in Chicago vs. Los Angeles

After 6 1/2 years in Chicago, my return to Los Angeles (for a second time) has been enlightening – in a few select areas.

In no particular order, here’s how the two cities match up in the categories that recently have been racing through my mind:

  • Female attire (weekends/game days) – Chicago (team jerseys); Los Angeles (lululemon)
  • Primary Starbucks activity – Chicago (LSATs); Los Angeles (screenplays)
  • Food observation #1 – Chicago (TALK: steak and burgers; EAT: steak and burgers); Los Angeles (TALK: fish/chicken/sprouts; EAT: steak and burgers)
  • TV meteorologist catch phase – Chicago (“lake-effect snow”); Los Angeles (“marine layer”)
  • Rick Bayless scorecard – Chicago: 8 (Frontera Grill; XOCO, Topolobampo, including eateries at O’Hare and Macy’s), Los Angeles: 1 (Red-O; about to double with another facility in Newport Beach)
  • NFL impact – Chicago (“Da Bears”); Los Angeles (“want to walk on the beach?”)
  • Biking – Chicago (individuals, many in T-shirts); Los Angeles (clusters, all with logo-heavy jerseys)
  • Pizza – Chicago (residents eat thin crust; visitors/tourists eat deep dish); Los Angeles (CPK)
  • Travel to baseball game – Chicago (Red Line); Los Angeles (bumper-to-bumper)
  • Clothing key word – Chicago (layers); Los Angeles (dry-fit)
  • West is best – Chicago (West Loop); Los Angeles (West Hollywood)
  • Skyline – Chicago (world quality); Los Angeles (need to Photoshop downtown LA, Century City, Wilshire Corridor onto picture of Santa Monica and pier)
  • Coffee link – Chicago (Intelligentsia); Los Angeles (Intelligentsia)
  • Accent – Chicago (slow, hold your nose when you speak); Los Angeles (fast, merge vowels together when you speak)
  • Heard on the street – Chicago (Polish and Russian); Los Angeles (Spanish, Farsi and Russian)
  • Best iconic statue — Chicago (Michael Jordan at United Center); Los Angeles (Bruce Lee in Chinatown)
  • Best presidential statue – Chicago (Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln Park); Los Angeles (Ronald Reagan, but you have to drive to Temecula)
  • Sports page constant, years later – Chicago (Phil Jackson); Los Angeles (Phil Jackson)
  • Stanley Cup champion – Chicago (current); Los Angeles (former)

Ageism: Rampant and Spreading

There is an interesting – and important — piece by Roger Wright on ageism on the Huffington Post. The article, entitled “Ageism in Action,” touches on several key elements of ageism, including the fact that research clearly details that ageism is perceived to be a bigger barrier to employment than sexism or racism.

The author also touches on elements of ageism, such as the automated rejections (“robojections”) that seniors receive when applying for openings for which they are perfectly – and more than – qualified.

Importantly, the piece also notes that age discrimination is being carried out “amid a societal tidal wave of indifference that lets ageism happen with barely a peep.”

There is a second, equally important, aspect to ageism that also exists.  And that’s the practice of marginalization, in which older, and still highly qualified, employees are frozen out of important strategic and operating elements of a company – thus, making them outsiders looking in.  The goal of this behavior on the part of management is clear: to adversely impact the job performance of the older worker, all with the aim of then being able to give the older employee a subsequent “negative” performance review that will allow the company to effectively push the employee out the door – and strip away the employee’s ability to seek legal recourse.

This practice has been implemented across industries and sectors for years.  And, for the most part, those employees not in management’s bulls-eye have either been complicit and/or remained silent.

And the practice continues to grow.

Lessons Learned: September

As September draws to a close – and minds wiser than mine contemplate the merger of the Hazelden and Betty Ford clinics — it is worthwhile to step back and reflect on what we learned during the month in the worlds of business, entertainment, sports and politics.

As for me …

  • Walter White and Breaking Bad will be missed but James Spader has arrived just in time with “Red” Reddington on The Blacklist.
  • The new IOS7 look is making us dizzy and spaced out – obviously a subliminal tribute to Steve Jobs.
  • Blackberry?  Well, at least the graduate school classes about huge corporate failures can move beyond the Kodak case.
  • The Seattle of the Seahawks and Russell Wilson is a lot different than the Seattle of The Killing and Linden and Holder.
  • Carrie is self-medicating, Brody is AWOL and Saul is throwing Carrie under the bus.  Welcome back Homeland.
  • Kudos to the Pirates and Indians and to the cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
  • Ted Cruz is so far out there that even John McCain (yes, the John McCain who picked Sarah Palin) found his way back to coherent reasoning for a moment.
  • Brian Williams’ rapid recovery from knee replacement surgery earns him multiple “attaboys.”
  • Starbucks’ “no-guns” position once again demonstrates that Howard Schultz is operating on a different level than most of us.

And finally …

  • Spitzer and Weiner, Weiner and Spitzer (doesn’t read well either way) – please run for some other office.   We need you.