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Friday, July 31, 2015

The Sandwich We’re Not Talking About

This sandwich consumes 10 percent of California’s prime 40 and up career-minded men, but mostly women. They can’t stop thinking about it. Some have even given up their jobs for it. What sandwich can this be? Maybe it’s a hipster concoction of a pastrami burger on a brioche bun dripping with avocado aioli and homemade ketchup – or something like that.

Unfortunately, I’m talking about the growing number of adults, nearly two million Californians, who are taking care of both their children and aging parents. These “caregivers” are called the sandwich generation. So much for that delicious bite. According to the University of California, Berkeley, report, the facts are sobering. With more than 80 percent of long-term care still provided by family and friends without compensation, the sandwich generation is feeling the squeeze. Let me give you some key ingredients from that go into this “sandwich”:

  • Typical sandwich generation caregiver in California:
    • Middle-aged woman (average age 39)
    • Well-educated, having obtained at least some college education
    • Employed full-time
    • Income is below the California median
  • 93 percent of caregivers are not paid for the time spent providing care.
  • 27 percent of caregivers in the U.S. reported a high degree of financial hardship from caregiving.
  • Sandwiched caregivers in California more frequently report not being able to afford to eat balanced meals and hungry due to lack of money.
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of California voters who are likely to need paid long-term care service in the next five years say they will not be able to afford one month of care, and the majority (75 percent) report they cannot afford more than three months of nursing home care.
  • Caregivers are more likely to experience physical strain, emotional stress and financial hardship.
  • Family caregiving in California was estimated at $47 billion in 2009, far exceeding the $12.8 billion in Medicaid spending for long-term care in the same year.

These bites are hard to swallow. California’s elderly population is growing, and rising health care costs are contributing to the increased demands of informal caregivers, but quite frankly, the menu options are extremely limited. As we move into the baby boomers’ silver age in the next decade, will California have more options, or are we doomed to have sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Jack Ohman draws his experience of caring for his dad in his editorial (click on the link for the full story):

For more in-depth look at UC Berkeley sandwich generation report, go to

Friday, July 17, 2015

East Bay Regional Parks . . . Natural Treasures in Our Own Backyard

Are you looking for something to do? Well, if you are, I would like to suggest you visit any one of the 65 parks within the East Bay Regional Park District. You'll find a multitude of beautiful and interesting places to explore.

Here's a little background on the East Bay Regional Park District: The citizens of Alameda County voted to establish the park district in 1934. During the height of the Depression, they were willing to tax themselves to set aside open land for public use. Tilden, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve and Lake Temescal were the first three parks. In 1964, most of Contra Costa County came under the Park District's purview. Currently, the park system encompasses an impressive 119,000 acres of land with 1,250 miles of trails, making it the largest regional park system in the country.

To learn more about the East Bay Regional Park District, check out their website at The motto on their home page says it all: Healthy Parks Healthy People.

And if you would like to volunteer your time, the East Bay Regional Park District has many options open to you. I recently joined their Ambassador Program and last Saturday volunteered my time at the Black Diamond Mines Open House in Antioch. It was such a pleasure to see how much everyone, young and old alike, enjoyed their tour of the mines.

So get out there and take advantage of the bounty we have available to us in our own backyard.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Is it time to take up underwater basket weaving? (Or how we all may be unemployed soon, and that’s okay.)

Like jokes? Here’s one you might enjoy.

So, a robot reporter, a digital cashier and an automated driver walk into a bar. They turn to the bartender and say… 


Because they aren’t people. Also, the bartender is non-sentient and nothing ever happens at all.

The end.

Well, maybe that’s not your sense of humor. 

Or, we might just have a major problem (or opportunity) coming around the corner.

Throughout history, there has only been one characteristic of our economy that remains a constant: its inconstancy. We began as an agricultural society and slowly transformed into an industrial society. Then, America began to outsource these jobs and grow into a service-based economy. 

Today, about 15 million Americans are waiters, cashiers, reporters or drivers. This won’t last long.

McDonald’s and Panera Bread have recently introduced self-service kiosks. Applebee’s and Chili’s have followed suit and now provide ordering tablets that limit our interaction with human waiters. These workers have now been relegated to the position of glorified busboys. 

Google has almost perfected automated driving. Soon Uber will be able to end its labor woes and shift to a robotic work force. Back in May, the state of Nevada issued its first commercial driver’s license to an automated truck.

IBM’s Watson has continued to advance following its dramatic victory on the Jeopardy game show. Today it can create custom recipes that even the most talented chefs have yet to dream up – all for free. 

And the piece de resistance? The Associated Press, the nation’s news leader, has begun outsourcing its financial and sports reporting to an algorithm produced by Automated Insights. Wordsmith, as it is called, now produces 3,750 articles each quarter.

That’s today’s state of affairs. Now imagine where we will be in fifty years. Once service jobs are fully automated, industry is made more efficient and software comes closer to artificial intelligence, what will be left for humans to do?

Well, for one, underwater basket weaving is an option -- if that is your sort of thing. 

That may not be the best choice though. Let me elaborate.

If the majority of jobs in 2065 are obsolete – assuming no unprecedented natural disasters or unimaginable economic transformations – Americans will have a lot more free time on their hands.

Yes, there will always be a need for certain professions that require a human touch or significant human oversight. But as technology advances, the number of jobs in that category will dwindle. At some point in the not so distant future, unemployment may rise as high as 80 percent. The only people powering the economy would be the ones programming and maintaining the machines, or working as a lawyer, doctor or celebrity. 

In that case, society will have to transform to cope with this new reality. We’ll have an intriguing spectrum of options and probably the greatest political fight of a generation. We will need to choose to:

1) Create a guaranteed federal income and allow Americans to pursue any personal passion project. Want to go paint a masterpiece or write a sonnet? Go ahead. Prefer to sit on the couch and watch Netflix? More power to you! This may lead to a new creative renaissance as barriers are lifted from participation in the arts. Or, more likely, we’ll all grow even larger as a people because of chronic inactivity.

2) Launch the first marketplace for social goods and tie participation – and success – to income. This is the more realistic and socially advantageous option.  In 2015, many jobs that need to be done aren’t done because of market inefficiencies or insufficient tax revenue. We having aging bridges, limited mass transit and chronic droughts. Free time and guaranteed income – in exchange for a shorter work week of public works – could help solve many of these major infrastructure problems. Our current economy also fails to cover many less tangible goods like cultural programs, public health campaigns, early childhood education, senior care and hundreds of other needs that fall through the cracks due to limited funding within the nonprofit realm. Many of these needs could be fulfilled with labor provided by those with free time. 

For example, governments could create an easily accessible database that list social projects and connects project managers with those interested in their projects. People could move around from project to project and accumulate points to earn their income. Soon enough people could be working together to make the world a better place.

3) Keep the status quo with a traditional economy. This would be the least optimal situation in this hypothetical future. Without most jobs, inequality would skyrocket and the economy would become highly unstable. In theory, we could shift to an extremely short work week in exchange for higher incomes, but that would not necessarily be possible. It’s hard to predict how much of the remaining economy could be diced up and shared to ensure a functional distribution of resources.

What will the future hold? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I suggest going back to school and majoring in underwater basket weaving. It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

~ Jonathan

Note: You can explore this hypothetical world more with in-depth analyses by the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson or the economists at Planet Money.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

BMC applauded for best public service campaign in 2015

We wanted to share some good news... at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) awards ceremony in New York last week, Brown·Miller Communications won the nation’s highest award for public relations, the Silver Anvil, for public service campaign.
And while that’s all pretty cool, what’s really exciting is that we won for the work we did with the California Center for Public Health Advocacy on Sugary Drink Warning Labels.
You have to appreciate that PRSA is a VERY pro-business organization. For them to bestow this on a program that attacks Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Gatorade and other major beverages is a sea change and a real indication that, as Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a-changin.” For that, kudos to all of our colleagues and friends who have played a role in changing community norms around sugary drinks –we all know it’s a long battle, and this is just one more indication that your work is having an impact.

Monday, April 27, 2015

When Well-Meaning Laws Go Bad

Yes – there is a problem with plastic bags. You see them floating in the water, along roadsides and even flying through the air at times. 

So some well-meaning person says, “We should make a law to ban the use of these plastic bags.” 

Everyone says, “Good idea,” and sets about to draft a law. 

Now here’s where things go wrong. Good laws can be written to help create innovation, increase employment and encourage commerce. Bad laws just tick people off, put people out of work and stifle commerce. The current California plastic bag law is one of those bad laws. 

Instead of outlawing all bags, the law should have just banned bags that didn’t degrade to nothing within 4 to 6 months. That would have pretty much meant that paper bags could still be used and surely would have spurred industry to develop a biodegradable plastic bag. 

And who knows what that new technology might have led to - perhaps other biodegradable containers like cans, bottles and boxes. Science and industry could have developed an entire new world of biodegradable containers that virtually cleaned themselves up after being used and discarded. 

But instead many of us opt to take our canvas sacks to the store, where the juice from a fresh chicken we purchase leaks out and soaks into the canvas. Then on our next trip to the store, that fresh fruit we buy picks up germs from the chicken juice, and our entire family is sickened. 

So I guess that after enough people get sickened in this manner, some other well-meaning person will get another law passed to create an agency to certify that the bags we take into the store are clean and safe to use. Each grocery store will have a state certified bag inspector at the entrance inspecting all the bags. Just imagine how many people that will employ - and cost us! 


Friday, April 10, 2015

School Is Changing What’s for Breakfast

What parent doesn’t want their children to do well at school? I know I do, and as a single mom, I do what I can to make sure they have what they need to start their day off right –  a good night’s rest, a warm shower and a good breakfast . Experts have said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Research in classrooms nationwide has shown that breakfast plays a critical role in a student’s ability to focus and that translates to better academic success.

I’m sold, but who am I kidding? Between the two children and despite my attempts to organize and plan, our mornings are hectic. Our morning start off with sleepy zombie-like creatures moving at a snail’s pace to get into the shower, and then with five minutes left to spare, we all rush out the door, grabbing bags, shoes and maybe an apple, then leaving their hot plates of food untouched. When I remind them to eat their breakfast, the common response is “But I’m not hungry!” I can’t be the only one with this morning scenario.

So, my attention perked up when I heard California introduced a bill that will make it easier to feed children breakfast, which in turn will help them improve their ability to learn. The way I see it, this is a win for the students, a win for the parents and a win for the school.

The bill will allow for breakfast to be served to students after the bell, unlike today when breakfast is served before school starts. I know when I went to school, more sleep always won in the battle of sleep vs. breakfast. With the passage of the Breakfast After the Bell bill, students will have the option to get breakfast at school during homeroom or long passing period.

I think it’s a great idea!  What do you think?

You can read more about this bill and its nuances at


Friday, March 27, 2015

Coke as a Healthy Snack . . . Really?

I recently read an article by Candice Choi, an AP food industry writer, about Coca-Cola hiring dieticians to put in a good word for their product. But obviously these paid hired guns go too far when they suggest that Coke, especially a mini-can, is a healthy treat. Healthy snacks are apples and bananas and whole-grain breads. Show me where a Coke has any nutritional value. As a child, I knew that soda was probably not good for you and to be consumed only as a rare “treat.” And that was back in the Dark Ages. Hopefully we’ve come a long way in educating consumers since then.

Evidently Coca-Cola pays these dieticians enough for them to leave their scruples behind. I don’t know how they can say that drinking sodas in portion-controlled sizes, like Coke’s mini-can, equates to providing a healthy snack. Not only does the mini-can provide the same amount of sugar per ounce as that of a regular-sized Coke but it also helps to line the producer’s pockets because these smaller cans cost the consumer more for less. Of course, that’s one way for the soda industry to recoup their losses because of the decline in sales in recent years.

Contrary to scientific evidence pointing to sugary drinks as being the main contributor to the obesity explosion in this country, some dieticians continue to deny that fact – for a price. They have their hands in the pockets of Big Soda, whether they admit it or not. Unethical . . . you bet.

Whatever happened to truth in advertising? Or is that just another pipe dream?