Monthly Archives: June 2012

Broccoli Battles: What are the Long-Term Consequences of the Supreme Court Decision on the Affordable Care Act?

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What a week for the United States. I generally shy away from writing about politically divisive issues on this blog, but there is no question that the news of the times this week in the United States was the Supreme Court decision on health reform.

I will not take a position on the merits of the bill here. As I have written previously, I firmly believe the health care system in the United States is badly broken and in desperate need of repair. But I will leave it to the experts to figure out how to do that.

This Supreme Court decision was about much more than just health care. This decision may have placed significant limitations on the future of the federal government to legislate.

While progressives collectively cheered the decision on Thursday and conservatives collectively gnashed their teeth, upon further analysis, I am not sure that these reactions are warranted.

Several recent articles have begun to explore the long-term ramifications of the decision. There will be more to come.

Many of my friends are health care policy experts and I would welcome their thoughts and clarifications here. In my reading of the Supreme Court decision, the Court rejected the use of the commerce clause as a basis for constitutionality and, in effect, punted the Medicaid decision to the states.

Looking through this lens, the decision was not a significant loss for conservatives, especially over the long term. In fact, it may go down in history as a turning point for limiting the powers of the federal government, which is a fundamental conservative principle.

An article in the New York Times goes into some detail about past use of the commerce clause, which has been used to pass legislation ranging from labor protections, to civil rights laws, to the Violence Against Women Act.

If the ruling this week limits the federal government’s ability to use the commerce clause to pass social legislation, this could be a significant gain for conservatives.

The other part of the decision, which has gotten little attention in the media, is the decision regarding the Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is the health insurance program that serves low income families in this country.

My understanding of the Supreme Court decision is that the court decided that the federal government can not take away all of a state’s Medicaid funding if a state chooses not to implement the expansions included in the Affordable Care Act.

The court limited this provision to say that the federal government can take only the portion of a state’s Medicaid funding that would have paid for the expansion, but not all of the state’s Medicaid funding, if the state chooses not to implement the expansion.

In effect, the Supreme Court made this provision, which for many, is viewed as one of the most crucial provisions of the law, a state option.

This pushes the question of whether to expand Medicaid onto state governments, where the issue will likely have to be relitigated in political halls on the state level. This will likely be highly politicized and there is absolutely no guarantee that all states will expand this program.

This could mean that, in some states, people with higher incomes, from 133% of the federal poverty level to 400% of the federal poverty level could be given tax subsidies to enable them to purchase health insurance, but families on the razor’s edge of poverty could go without insurance.

Again, I am not advocating any particular position; I am just trying to lay a foundation for robust discussion. But it seems to me that the Roberts decision may, in the long run, have done more to forward conservative ideals than progressive ones.

What do you think? What was your reaction to the Supreme Court decision? Why do you think Roberts made such a bold move? Do you believe that there will be long term legal consequences to this decision? How do you think this will affect the November election? Will you or your family personally benefit from the Affordable Care Act? Have you already?

I know this is a complex topic, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Culture, Economy, End of Life, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, Obamacare, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Role of Government, Women

Times Are Rough – I’ve Got Too Much Stuff!

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A friend recently shared an interesting article from the New York Times entitled “The Way We Live: Drowning in Stuff.” This article raises a number of interesting issues about family dynamics, many of which I explored in blog posts earlier this week.

The article discusses a new book coming out next week called, “Life at Home in the 21st Century.” This book is the result of a study in which anthropologists followed families with at least two small children in the home to document how these families handle their “stuff.”

One of the findings of the study which made me chuckle was this one:

There was a direct relationship between the amount of magnets on refrigerators and the amount of stuff in a household.

When I married my husband, he and I both knew – in fact, anyone who ever has known me for any period of time probably knew, that “stuff” would be our marital conflict. I like my stuff. My husband prefers a space that resembles a zen meditation center – without the meditation.

I come from a long line of pack rats. I feel a certain comfort when surrounded by things that remind me of people and places I love. My husband, on the other hand, feels comfort when surrounded by clean, flat surfaces without piles.

Having just faced the concept of having to pack only what would fit in my car to flee a wildfire, I was forced to think about all the stuff that surrounds me.

Somehow, when faced with the possibility of losing everything, I was not as panicked as I expected.

I think that was because I knew that I would be able to get myself, my husband and my teenage pup to safety and that we would all be fine, no matter what happened. Apparently, that is the stuff that matters.

What do you think? Are you a pack rat or a minimalist? Do you have emotional issues about your stuff? Do you regret having eliminated something that you thought was clutter, only to realize later that you needed that item? Have you had to work through these issues with an aging parent? Do you have any advice for those of us who like to hold on to things? And why does it seem that when I come back from a long trip, I feel much more willing to get rid of things that were not needed and used in whatever bag I took? That seems to be the best time for my husband to discuss this issue with me, when I am most open to changing. Finally, how many refrigerator magnets are on your refrigerator?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Books, comedy, Culture, Environment, equality, Parenting, Peace, Relationships, Stereotypes

How to Get More Mileage Out of Your Frequent Flier Miles

While I realize that we are all anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court Decision on health care, which should be coming any minute, I am going to share an article that will help us all get away once the dust settles. Unfortunately, writing about the health care law would feel a little bit too much like my day job.

I have no doubt that I will do that at some point, but for today, I am going to write about travel, my first love. Suffice it to say that we have an intractable health care problem in this country and I hope we find a way for more people to get affordable health care.

With that said, an article in the New York Times about services to help make frequent flier miles more user-friendly intrigued me. In our house, we look for every opportunity to obtain frequent flier miles. Heck, I would even pay a little more for an item if I knew I was getting miles in return.

And we use them. We have even racked up enough miles to fly first class to Argentina – more than once! And I will tell you, for an overnight flight, it is worth every mile. Instead of stumbling to our destination and falling into bed for a nap, we awoke refreshed and ready to enjoy the day.

It can be complicated to use frequent flier miles, as there are often restrictions and blackout dates. The services in this article are meant to help consumers ensure that they can find a way to get the most out of their miles.

I don’t know; I haven’t found it to be so complicated to use miles – perhaps I should have started one of these agencies myself! The agencies charge fees in the ballpark of $150. I thought the point of using frequent flier miles was to save money!

What do you think? Do you accumulate frequent flier miles? Have you had trouble using them? Would you use one of these services? If you have used one of these services, what was your experience? Do you have any exciting frequent flier travel coming up? If so, where are you going?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Culture, Health, International, Politcs, travel

The Hazards of Mountain Living: Colorado Forest Fires

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(First, a quick note for my family: The photos in this blog post make the fire look closer than it is. We are fine. I promise.)

Without question, the news of the times in our house right now is focused on forest fires. I have lived in Colorado for the better part of 10 years. I have followed news stories and inhaled smoke when winds changed from countless fires over the years. It is a part of living in the mountains.

But yesterday, while driving back from a business meeting, I saw the first plume of smoke that was much too close for comfort. This fire is different. This fire is 3 miles from our house, right behind the foothills that have provided us with the most spectacular view for years. People say fire does not usually travel down a mountain, which provides some comfort, since this fire is currently on the other side of the mountain.

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We do not live nestled into the mountains. There are streets and even a small neighborhood between our house and the fire. It is highly unlikely that anything will happen to our house. But we are in the pre-evacuation zone and the winds are picking up. And the plumes of smoke are ominous.

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While we honestly do not think that any harm will come to our home, these types of experiences certainly make you think. If I had to leave with only what would fit in my car, what would I take? How would I walk away from all the comforts that surround me knowing that it may all be gone when I return? Does any of the “stuff” even matter?

What do you think? Have you ever been in a wildfire, tornado, flood or hurricane? Did you evacuate? What lessons did you learn through this experience?  If you had to leave with only a few things, what would be on the top of your list? What advice do you have for me or for others who may face this type of experience in the future?

I hope you will share your thoughts. And thank you for reading.

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Filed under Colorado, Environment, Forest Fires, Health, Photos

Weekly Travel Theme: Parks

Where’s My Backpack has offered another irresistible photo challenge. This week’s theme is Parks. As an outdoorsy type who lives in Colorado, I have a soft spot in the center of my heart reserved for parks, most specifically for national parks.

Nature’s

Amazing

Triumph

Inspiring

Observant

Notions

About

Life

 

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Peaceful

Awakening

Rejuvenated

Kingly

Spaces

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Filed under Culture, Peace, Photos, Poetry, Role of Government, travel, Weekly Photo Challenge

Four Strategies to Achieve Higher Employee Engagement

 

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As readers of this blog know, I do not usually stay on any specific topic for more than one post, but we seem to have hit a nerve on the last few posts, so I am going to keep with this theme for one more day.

There was in interesting post over on CNN’s Management and Career Blog entitled “Exposing Management’s Dirty Little Secret.”

The tagline of the article reads: If employees aren’t as enthusiastic as they could be, it’s not because the work sucks; it’s because management blows. While obviously, this is a broad statement, there is certainly some truth.

The article talks about three factors that contribute to employee satisfaction and engagement:

The scope that employees have to learn and advance (are there opportunities to grow?);

The company’s reputation and its commitment to making a difference in the world (is there a mission that warrants extraordinary effort?); and

The behaviors and values of the organization’s leaders (are they trusted, do people want to follow them?).

My husband works in Human Resources and much of his work focuses on efforts to track and improve employee engagement in corporations. We discuss these issues frequently and agree that opportunities for growth and adequate compensation are critical components to keep employees engaged. And they are certainly the basic ingredients for success.

But the discussions on this blog over the past few days have made me think about a fourth, equally important but more elusive factor. What kind of work-life balance does a particular job offer its employees?

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We have discussed some of the reasons many women leave high level positions in earlier discussions. But this issue is certainly not confined to its impact on women. And change will only come if we expand the discussion to include the impact on men.

A few thoughtful readers commented on the benefit to a company’s bottom line of having healthy, balanced employees. I do not have data to support this claim at my fingertips, but I would imagine that companies that provide these types of intangible benefits have more loyal employees and less turnover.

This must impact the bottom line.

What do you think? What makes you want to stay in a job or look elsewhere for work? Do you know of any companies whose employees are exceptionally engaged? To what do you contribute this success? How much of a role do you think a manger plays in this and how much is determined by the overall corporate culture? What energizes you at work?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Income inequality, Parenting, Peace, Policy, Poverty, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

Sheryl Sandberg’s Top 3 Tips to Keep Women in High Level Jobs

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Yesterday’s post about an article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All” written by a women in a high-level position with the State Department, who chose to leave her job in order to spend more time with her family generated quite a discussion yesterday. I would like to continue the discussion today.

Many thanks to Diana from TalktoDiana for her passion and engagement. In the comments section, she shared this TED Talk, by Sheryl Sandberg, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, which I would like to share with all of you today:

This video confirms many of the statistics included in the Atlantic article. Ms. Sandberg also posits some theories about the root causes behind the statistics. She discusses three important reasons why she believes that there are not more women in leadership positions, and offers advice for women who would like to change these realities. Her advice includes:

Women need to sit at the table

Make your partner a real partner

Don’t leave before you leave

I will not go into detail on these three reasons, as I could certainly do no better job than Ms. Sandberg in explaining this complex issue. But I encourage you to watch the talk if you are interested in helping think through this more.

The first reason will resonate with most women. Women simply have less faith in their abilities to succeed than men. It is a fascinating reality that I do not fully understand, but we have all seen and felt it in action. As an example, Sandberg highlights data showing that most women do not negotiate salaries and most men do.

The second reason will also resonate: women need to stop doing all the work at home. The statistics – and people’s personal realities – show that this is an expectation which makes it hard for women to reach professional heights they might otherwise like to reach. Perhaps women need to stop enabling this reality. (I should mention that I do not suffer from this particular problem. My husband is much tidier and a much better cook than me – good man.)

The third reason really intrigues me. Don’t leave before you leave. Sandberg points out that many women make professional choices and changes before life circumstances require them to do so. I know this to be true, as I believe will other women.

I remember applying for a job several years ago. We had just moved to a new city and I had been volunteering and looking for work for several months. While my husband and I have been fortunate professionally, our lifestyle requires two incomes.

My husband and I had been trying to conceive a baby and I was absolutely convinced that I was pregnant, which is probably a subject to which many couples can also relate. I was called in for a promising job interview.

I distinctly recall talking with my best friend about whether or not I should disclose the fact that I was pregnant to the potential employer. My best friend, who is one of the superwomen described in the Atlantic article who is currently doing it all with a high level job and two small children, said “Don’t say a word.”

I turned out not to be pregnant. Wise advice from a wise woman. I believe that this type of thinking is what Sandberg refers to in the TED Talk. I am not sure why women do this, but we frequently adjust our plans based on what might be, rather than what is. I appreciate Sandberg’s advice and plan to put her suggestions into action. Thank you again to Diana for sharing this TEDtalk with us.

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Yesterday, I also came across an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Being Murphy Brown in a June Cleaver World.” Apparently, there is an entire column in the Wall Street Journal called The Juggle dedicated to just these issues. This article just confirms my suspicion that regardless of the choices a woman makes she will feel inadequate in one portion of her life or another.

There is so much to discuss here. But I believe the key is to start having an honest dialogue about how society can enable women and men to contribute to professional society, and also allow them to have fulfilling and contented lives at home – without guilt.

I am thinking about gathering personal stories about people’s experiences with these dilemmas to turn into a book. Women and men both have a lot of stories to tell. I would love to speak with high-level professional women to learn about how they have handled this and lessons they have learned along the way.

What do you think? Does the TED Talk resonate with you? Do you have feelings of guilt regarding your adequacy as a parent or a professional, or both? Or have you been forced to make these difficult choices? How did you decide which road to take? How do you think we start to shift the paradigm, as Hugh suggested yesterday? What else does this bring up for you? Do you think there is a book idea here or are there too many books on this topic already? Any thoughts on how I should get started?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.   

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

Does Anyone Care About the Lack of Women in Leadership Positions?

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An article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All” has spread like wildfire through my Facebook and Twitter feed, and with good reason. The article is long, so give yourself some time if you decide to read it, but it is a chilling account of the difficult choices that women face when deciding where to focus their energies between career and family.

Some might say that chilling is too strong a word to describe this issue, but I would bet that people who would say that are not 40 year old females. This article raised more issues than I can describe in a short blog post. But I will give it my best shot.

It seems that my generation of women has been set up in some ways – entirely unintentionally, but set up for failure nonetheless. Whatever choice a woman makes about where to focus her energies, she pays a price in other areas of her life. And she frequently feels guilt regardless of which choice she made.

Many of my friends focused on establishing themselves in their careers in their 20s and early 30s, which are prime child-bearing years. By the time these women turned their focus to starting a family, after becoming more established in their careers, their biological clocks have frequently run out.

I cannot tell you the number of women I know who have had to turn to medicine to enable them to have children. Aside from the financial expense of taking this route, the emotional toll on a woman and her partner is substantial.

This article argues that if companies and organizations want to have women in leadership positions, things have to change. In addition to the author of the article, who held a high-level position in the State Department, it highlights several other prominent women, including Mary Matalin and Karen Hughes who both made the decision to leave high-level positions because they could not achieve the work-life balance they needed. I applaud the author for her courage in choosing to speak out on this complex and highly-charged subject.

I remember applying for a high level, stressful job several years ago. When asked how long I would expect to stay in the position,  I told the interviewing panel that I would likely stay for a long period of time if I could achieve a good work-life balance in the position. I was the last of two candidates – guess who did not get the job?

This is a fundamental cultural issue. We must begin the conversation now. Perhaps if we start the conversation, younger women will not be faced with the same choices that women of my generation have faced. Companies will have more women in leadership positions and be able to take advantage of the human capital that comes with this. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Some highlights from the article:

The best hope for improving the lot of all women, and for closing what Wolfers and Stevenson call a “new gender gap”—measured by well-being rather than wages—is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.

Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.

What do you think? If you are not from the United States, do you feel like women face these same pressures in your country? If not, why not? What ideas do you have to change this dynamic? How can we make corporate and organizational leaders think differently about the lack of female talent in leadership positions? How do we help people understand that there are options that will keep talented individuals for longer periods of time if we just allow for a little more flexibility? Have you or your family faced these challenges? How have you handled them?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, International, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

The Illuminating Blogger Award and Some Illuminating Quotes from the Alchemist

Earlier this week, In Blue kindly nominated me for the Illuminating Blogger Award. I love the Illuminating Blogger image, with a single candle flame burning brightly. Personally, when I stare at a candle for long enough, I find that I am usually illuminated in some way.

Thank you so much to In Blue for the nomination. If you have not checked out her blog yet, please do so. It is a true feast for the eyes and the soul.

The rules for this award are simple. I just need to tell one random thing about myself. One random thing that seems somewhat related to the Illuminating Blogger Award is that Paulo Coelho’s, The Alchemist, is the first and only book I have ever read in one sitting. Many years ago, I read the first few pages of the book and realized I had found a jewel. I turned off my phone, sat on the floor and read straight through, start to finish.

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I thought I would share some of my favorite quotes from this special book (which sits dog-eared and full of underlines on my bookshelf):

Everyone seems to have a clear idea about how other people should live their lives, but none about his or her own.

At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate – that ‘s the world’s greatest lie.

[A Personal Legend is] what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.

When a person really wants something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.

When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.

The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon.

We have to take advantage when luck is on our side, and do as much to help it as it’s doing to help us. It’s called the principle of favorability. Or beginner’s luck.

Making a decision is only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he never dreamed of when he first made the decision.

He had loved her before he even knew she existed.

Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way…That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one dies of thirst, just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.

That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to be better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.

What do you think? What is your Personal Legend? What books have you read in one sitting? What books do you return to again and again to read what you have underlined or dog-eared?

I would also like to pass this award along to some illuminating blogs. I have recently found most of these and have truly enjoyed their work. I hope you will take a moment to visit each of them:

Blogging on the Bright Side

Writing Your Destiny

Real Women’s Health

Make the World Better

The Quiet One in the Corner

Beyond PR

Truth Warrior

Postcard Intellect

Thank you again to In Blue for the nomination. I am truly honored. And thank you all for reading.

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Filed under Awards, Books, Culture, International, Peace, Photos, Poetry, travel

Romance in Paris: Why Do French Bookstores Continue to Thrive?

 

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An article in the New York Times called “The French Still Flock to Bookstores” explores why, at a time when independent bookstores struggle in other parts of the world, they still flourish in France.

Reading the article transported me to a café in Paris where, by the way, I have never been. I could hear accordion music playing softly in the background as I read. And the topic of the article, the French romance with books, fit the theme.

I can’t help but feel a certain nostalgia and romance for what appears to be a dying breed, the written word on the page. I’ll admit that I have succumbed to the lure of the e-book for its convenience, especially when travelling; the ability to carry an entire library, which is lighter than a magazine, certainly has its appeal, but there is nothing like a book.

Just the smell of books, be they in the library or in a used book store or even brand new – there is something both hopeful and weighty about that smell. What will this book tell me? Will I be transported to another land? Or learn something new about places I inhabit every day? Books provide us with a cheap form of escape from daily life.

This article is about a love affair with books, and really, where better to have a love affair than Paris?  But it also explains the practical reasons that bookstores still thrive in France.

The French government has taken a special interest in preserving bookstores, providing grants to bookstore owners and subsidies for shopkeepers.

Most importantly, perhaps, they passed a law to prohibit electronic books from being sold dramatically below the publisher’s list price. This has likely done more to prop up bookstores than anything.

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My heart and my mind appear to be at war on this particular subject. In my heart, I am delighted to read that there is at least one place in the world where I can still wander from bookstore to bookstore in search of hidden treasures and ideas yet to be shared. I would buy a ticket to Paris today to do just that.

On a pragmatic level, however, I understand that e-books help reduce the environmental impact of books, as long as people don’t constantly upgrade their e-readers and create more electronic waste. If someone can tell me that physical books are more green than e-books, I would gladly change my perspective on this.

One green alternative is the model described in the article where once a month, on weekends, in Rue de Martyrs south of Montmartre, people bring old books and are welcome to take away books for free as long as they do not sell them.

Baltimore has a thriving organization called The Book Thing that allows people to do this every weekend. It was in the basement of an old Baltimore row house, but outgrew that space and had to find a bigger location. Who knew Baltimore was so chic?!

What do you think? How do you feel about the French government’s active role in preserving bookstores? What do you see as the future of books? If you are considering writing a book, or already have, did you print hard copies or just an e-book? Do you think that old bookstores will survive, but that they will become like vintage record stores or do you think there will always be a market for books? What will this mean for libraries?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Books, Culture, Economy, Education, International, Poetry, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Technology, travel

No More Golden Parachutes for Firefighters! Why Are Pensions Always the First to Go?

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An article in the New York Times this week entitled “When ALEC Takes Over Your Town” examines the financial problems of a town in Rhode Island. This town could be just about any town in the United States.

The article discusses the demise of a proposal to increase taxes to boost the local economy in the town and highlights the fact that one of the two legislators in the House of Representatives who blocked the proposed increase is on the on the national board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

While ALEC is a blog post topic for another day, anyone who is unfamiliar with this group should simply know that this is a highly conservative lobbying group posing as a non-profit, which promotes some of the most mean-spirited state legislation you can possibly imagine.

One of their pieces of model legislation, which they shop around to state legislators around the country, is the infamous Stand Your Ground Law that was the subject of much conversation in the Trayvon Martin case.

ALEC also devotes significant energy to working to shrink the size of government. But again, I have no doubt that I will write a post another day on ALEC.

But what interested me in this article is something that also came up in the comments section from yesterday’s post about the European Financial Crisis. The issue that I would like to explore today is the issue of what many call “bloated” pensions and what impact these pensions are having on budgets around the world.

As one of my brilliant readers noted yesterday, many say that pensions play a significant role in the financial problems in Europe today. We know that this is also an issue here in the United States, especially on the state and local level.

But it is important to remember what we are talking about here – the people who will be receiving these pensions are people who have served their country in one way or another, be it as a teacher, a fire-fighter, a police officer or some other sort of public servant. These are not people with golden parachutes and corporate bonuses.

I would imagine that firefighters and teachers plan for their financial future just like the rest of us. So, what happens when the legislature or local government slashes these benefits? What is the human impact on the people who depend on these benefits?

I understand that the math is complicated when it comes to talking about pensions. And I also understand that we have an aging population which creates complications on a number of levels, with significant fiscal consequences.

But shouldn’t we be focused on finding solutions to the problems that arise with an aging population? And why are the pensions of hard working individuals the first thing on the chopping block?

What do you think? Why do you think there is so much attention right now on pensions? Do you see other ways that a government could address the aging population that could actually help save money? What do you think people do when their pensions are slashed? Are there other areas of the budget where you think states and localities could find savings? Have you, personally experienced a reduction in the benefits you were expecting to receive? How has that impacted you and your family?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading

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Filed under Career Planning, Economy, Education, End of Life, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government

What is Happening in Europe and Who is to Blame?

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I am no economist, but I have been doing my best to understand the economic problems currently plaguing Europe. Cocktail party conversations have been enlightening, but have only confused me more.

People have strong opinions on whether Greece or Germany is a bad actor and about whether either of these countries, or any other, will leave the euro zone.

In the past week, two articles on this topic have piqued my interest. The first was written by Thomas Friedman for the New York Times, entitled Two Worlds Cracking Up. This is an interesting examination of the economic crisis in Europe, contrasted with the spike in violence in the Middle East.

The second is an article by Paul Krugman, also for the New York Times, entitled Greece as Victim.

While there are many opinions about what has caused the current crisis in Europe, there seems to be general agreement that the euro zone’s lack of a strong, cohesive governance model has contributed to the problems.

The financial problems in the euro zone are a shame. The US economy is also in a state of chaos, and opinions differ on what caused our financial meltdown as well, but at least our entire governing model is not in jeopardy.

Most of us will recall the optimism which accompanied the announcements when the euro zone was established. The concept that the European region would be more powerful if countries gave up some of their sovereignty in order to band together, on its face, was strong.

But as in most things in life, the devil is in the details.

What do you think? What do you see as the future for the euro zone? Do you believe that the lack of a strong governance model contributed to the problems? Do you see a way to remedy this issue or do you think that countries are too unwilling to give up their sovereignty to make this work? Do you think that the euro zone has helped or hurt Europe in the long run? What about in the short run? If you live in Europe, how has the euro zone benefitted or harmed you personally?

Again I am no expert on this – just an interested observer. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

Travel Theme: Secret Places

Copyright JC Politi Photography

This week, Where’s My Backpack’s Travel Challenge post includes an enchanting description of a secret place in Times Square in New York City, where, simply by standing in the right place on top of the subway grates, people are serenaded by a symphony of bells and tonal sounds, which drowns out the noise of the city and creates a “secret peaceful island in the middle of a sea of chaos.” Please go check out her story – I dare you not to want to visit this secret space in New York City!

Copyright JC Politi Photography

When I thought about this travel challenge, I was immediately transported to one of my favorite places on earth – Patagonia, Argentina. Hundreds of miles down a dirt road, on our way to Villa Pehuenia, exhausted after hours and hours of driving, we were awestruck when we came upon the magnificent area in these photos.

As I thought more about this challenge, a song that we used to sing in Girl Scout Camp kept coming into mind. I have not thought of this song in over 25 years, but I loved the song then, and it still resonates with me. In fact, I think the song is even more special now, as I understand the words better than when I was younger.

I know a place where no one ever goes
There’s peace and quiet, beauty and repose
It’s hidden in a valley beside a mountain stream
And lying there beside it
I find that I can dream
Only of things of beauty to the eyes;
Snow-capped mountains rising to the sky.
Now I know that God made this place for me
For me, God made this place for me.
One can imagine herself as in a dream
Climbing up a mountain or down a small ravine
The magic of the peace and quiet ever shall stay
To make this place a haven every day
Oh how I wish I never had to leave
All my life such Beauty to receive
Now I know that God had made this place for me,
Oh yes, for me.  

 

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Filed under Photos, Poetry, travel

Sermons We See

Loved this one and wanted to pass it on.

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The Price of Slowing Down: What Has Caused the Increased Interest in Buddhist Practices?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An article, entitled “Buddhist’s Delight” is the number one most e-mailed article in the New York Times this morning. This is fascinating to me.

We live in a time where technological advancements have required us all to become multi-tasking masters, enslaved to the pings of smart phones and e-mail. But clearly, many people seek new ways to regain a simple focus on the here and now.

The irony, of course, is that the focus of Buddhist practice is meditation, whereby people sit in silence and attempt to empty their minds to listen to the voice within. There could be nothing less technological than this. And yet people are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to go on spiritual retreats to work on cultivating this silence and emptiness.

I, too, seek the peace that comes from meditation and yoga. I savor the moments at the end of a yoga class when we lay still and listen to our bodies and feel the softening of the mind. But soon after I return to my everyday life, this peace quickly dissipates.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We live in a fast paced world where instant gratification has become the norm. Perhaps this is what causes many of us to seek a religious philosophy which encourages us to slow down.

Imagine a long distance relationship, where you run to the mailbox every day to see if there is word from your far-off lover? Or disconnecting from work every night and waiting until you get back to the office to see if there is anything pressing which needs attention? Really, would this be so bad?

What do you think? How do you explain the interest in Buddhist philosophies and practice? Do you think this is related to the hectic pace of everyday life? Do you practice meditation or yoga or otherwise find ways to try and remain aware and present? Have you found any strategies that help carry this peaceful state into your everyday life? Do you think that interest in these practices will grow or do you think that this is just a fad?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Health, International, Peace, Religion, Technology