Tag Archives: health

Couch Potato Curse: Where’s the real danger?

Copyright JC Politi Photography

Copyright JC Politi Photography

I try to eat well. I know that I should exercise, and I frequently do, although certainly not as often as I should. I don’t smoke and I know that being around people who smoke is harmful. But toxic chemicals coming from my couch? That is a little more than my brain can digest.

Two articles in the New York Times this week (Eat Like a Mennonite and  Warnings from a Flabby Mouse) give me pause. They both reference endocrine inhibiters, whatever in the world those are.

Apparently, these are chemicals that can mimic or disrupt hormones and, while the science is still evolving in this area, these chemicals appear to be closely linked to several cancers.

We are always hearing about new things that are bad for us – and frequently, those things have become fundamental aspects of our modern culture.

If it turns out that plastics really are bad for us, just think of all of the things we use every day without even thinking about it that are made from just this material. It boggles the mind.

And then they talk about things like toxins emanating from car interiors, and shampoos, and couches, and cosmetics. It is exhausting.

I live in Colorado. It is unbearably dry here and I have a lotion and some sort of lip product in extensive use at all times. Is this dangerous? And does that mean sunscreen is dangerous? Which is worse for me – wearing sunscreen or not wearing sunscreen?

I don’t have children and can’t imagine trying to work through all of this to make sure one is doing the best one can for a child -just trying to navigate these waters for myself is overwhelming. I know my new year’s resolution is to let it be – and I am trying to do that. But I hope that there are some smart grownups somewhere in some agency who are helping make sure that my chapstick is not killing me.

Suzie chapstick always looked pretty healthy to me, but does anyone know where she is now????

What do you think? How do you navigate all of the health information that comes your way, especially about things that are non-food related? Does any of this worry you? Have you taken any steps to change your eating habits or other lifestyle choices because of this type of information?

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

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Filed under Culture, Environment, Fitness, Food, Health, Parenting, Role of Government

Homemade Twinkies? Is someone really going to make those?

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second most read New York Times article right now (after a cool interactive tool that will help you plan your Thanksgiving meal) is a recipe for homemade Twinkies.

While I feel as sad about the news that Hostess is folding as anyone, I am intrigued that there has been such a national outcry about this. And I am more intrigued that anyone would want to make homemade Twinkies.

I find it very interesting how food is linked to our emotions in this country – perhaps in every country.

I have to admit – I believe I have shared this here before – when my sweet gentle giant of a pup passed away in 2010 while I was in Argentina, I had an undeniable craving to head straight to McDonalds and get some salty french fries. They tasted like home to me and I needed that.

I suppose that the multi-national corporations who tempt us with ever bigger portions and even more fat-laden options are well aware of this connection, and in fact work hard every day to make that type of link with their products. It is a powerful force.

But Twinkies? I have to admit to being a little pleased – I know this will be seen as blasphemy by many – that Hostess has struggled. I am not sure that there is a speck of nutritional value in a single one of their products. (Feel free to correct me if I am wrong – it has happened before and will likely happen again).

I am sorry about the lost jobs and I will miss having that guilty pleasure calling out to me from the convenience store when I am on a road trip. But maybe now that I won’t have that temptation, I will actually reach for a piece of fruit or a string cheese instead. Ya think?

What do you think? How do you feel about the liquidation of Hostess? What is your favorite Hostess product? Why do you think people are so distressed that Hostess is going out of business? And what impact do you think the amotional food connection has had on our waistlines and on our pocketbooks?

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

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Filed under Culture, Food, Health

Hunger Knows No Borders: Poverty at Home and Abroad

Copyright JC Politi Photography

There is an article in the New York Times this week about the increasing number of people living in poverty in Spain.

The article references the fact that the unemployment rate in Spain is over 50% for young people and that over 20% of families in Spain live in poverty. It tells the stories of people who find themselves forced to search for food in trash bins in order to feed themselves and their families.

It is striking to read about how dire the situation is in Spain right now, especially after having just visited the country. We were blown away by the food and the beauty, but this article makes it clear that there is another, much more tragic, story to be told.

As I read this article, I felt like I was reading about the United States. The article spoke of people who had never been on government assistance who are now accessing food pantries or searching through dumpsters for food.

So frequently, we read an article like this and look at it as an interesting, but sad anecdote from a foreign land. But the truth is, we can see the same thing here in our own back yards every day.

Copyright JC Politi Photography

The recession has had far-reaching implications across the globe. The number of people in the United States who are accessing public benefits has sky-rocketed.

Some people complain about the number of people who are accessing government assistance, including food assistance. I don’t understand this.

If jobs are not available and people are hungry, why would we not be grateful to live in a society where people who have hit rock bottom have a place to go to feed themselves and their children? How can we be so sure that we will not be the next family to come upon hard times, through a loss of a job or through a medical emergency that leaves us financially devastated?

I am honestly baffled and saddened by the lack of compassion in much of the United States during these difficult economic times.

What do you think? Why do you think people are so critical of government efforts to support low-income families? Why do you think people are so quick to judge families who have come upon hard times? How can people be so sure that they will not be the next person to need a little help? And how can we reduce the stigma associated with accepting government assistance so that more people can have a bridge to survive their current hardship in the hopes of eventually getting a job and escaping poverty?

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

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, International, Photography, Photos, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

Olympics Opening Ceremonies: Boom or Bust?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.Nnet

So, what did you think about the Olympics opening ceremony?

The New York Times had an interesting article examining the ceremonies, as I am sure did every paper, but I find the coffee-shop conversations to be more interesting. It seems that the overall perception of the ceremonies was that the event was quirky. And a bit chaotic.

And of course, from the American perspective, you couldn’t miss the lengthy celebration of national health care. In our house, we thought that segment was pretty hilarious.

Personally, I preferred this ceremony to the Beijing ceremonies. I found the Beijing ceremony to be a little creepy.

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I did have trouble following some of the events last night in London, like the text messages with a backdrop of 60’s music, but overall I thought it was fun and visually engaging, with just a sprinkle of humor.

I seem to prefer a little chaos over a robotic show of submission and control.

What do you think? What was your favorite part of the opening ceremony? What did you think of the event overall?  What do you think Danny Boyle could have done differently? And why do you think they had a cover band do a Beatles song when Paul McCartney was there? Finally, what are you most excited for in this year’s Summer Olympics?

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

If you liked this, you might also like:

Running of the Bulls: Would You Do It? (newsofthetimes.org)

Say It Ain’t So, Lance: For the Love of the Game (newsofthetimes.org)

Romance in Paris: Why Do French Bookstores Continue to Thrive (newsofthetimes.org)

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Filed under Culture, Fitness, Health, Health Reform, International, Peace, Role of Government, Sports

Note to My Readers: Times They Are a-Changin’…Maybe

I am thinking about making a small adjustment to the newsofthetimes.org and would love your thoughts. Some of the posts here have been thrown together at the speed of light, without as much time and attention as I would like to give them.

I couldn’t love blogging more. This has been a fantastic outlet for my creativity and a place to share my thoughts. You all have been more supportive than I ever could have imagined. I have loved getting to know all of your blogs, which have made me laugh and think and smile and cry.

I have been writing every day for the past several months, but I am thinking about cutting back to every other day. I would still do Tunes Tuesday and one photography post a week, but I would be more thoughtful about the news stories I post and this would allow more time for conversation.

One friend told me that she enjoys reading the news stories I post, but we move on to a new topic too quickly for her to join the discussion. Maybe she has a point.

I am torn about this, because I absolutely love spending my mornings writing. But this would give me more time to visit all of your posts and still keep my day job. 🙂

What do you think? I would really welcome honest feedback on this idea. This blog has not felt like a burden in any way – I have loved absolutely every minute of this and it has become an important part of my day, enabling me to reconnect with something deep inside that had not been nurtured lately. So please be honest. Do you think this new format would allow more time for meaningful discussion on the news stories I pick? Or do you feel like daily posts, with a few lighter news items helps create variety that might be lost if I switch to the new model?

Maybe I could just try the new model on for size for a few weeks and see how it feels.

I would really love to hear your thoughts. Thank you so much for faithfully reading and commenting. As I originally imagined, the conversation here is the best part, and that is because of you, so thank you from the bottom of my heart! Your support has made this experience more special than I can say.

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Filed under Blogging, Career Planning, Culture, Health, Love, Music, Photography, Photos, Social Media, social pressures, Technology, Travel Challenge, Weekly Photo Challenge

Are Organic Food Standards a Hoax? The Green-Washing of America

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Do you go out of your way to buy organic foods? Have you put a lot of thought into this decision?

An article in the New York Times called “Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized” is raising eyebrows this week. The article explores the recent boom in organic food products and takes an in-depth look at the body that regulates what is certified organic and what is not.

In particular, the article examines the National Organic Standards Board, which is the board that decides which non-organic ingredients can be included in certified organic foods.

The article points out the number of large corporations who have been taking advantage of the new market. For example, it surprised me to read:

Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo, of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Healthy Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup.      

Copyright JC Politi Photography

But certainly the most concerning portion of the article is the description of the people serving on the National Organic Standards Board.

While there is certainly room for corporations to serve on the board in the slots allocated for those interests, it is troubling to learn that executives from General Mills and other major corporations have served in positions reserved for consumers.

It appears that Congress specifically designed this board to ensure that it would represent a broad range of interests, but the appointments to this board have clearly been corporate-heavy.

Our family buys organic because we are concerned about the hormones and additives and preservatives that are found in most foods today. I understand that buying organic is a luxury, but we feel that it is an investment in our long-term health. This article makes me wonder if we are being duped.

What do you think? Do you go out of your way to buy organic foods? Why have you made the choices you have? Are you concerned about big businesses controlling the organic food standards or do you think that having big business involved is the only way to grow the industry to scale? Where do farmers markets fit into this equation?

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

If you liked this, you may also like:

Grist BlogPost: Multinational Food Corporations Thank You For Buying ‘Organic’

Let Them Eat Sat: Who Funds These Studies?

What Foods Are Good For Me This Week?

Who Needs Government Anyway? Except… 

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Filed under Business, Culture, Economy, Environment, Ethics, Fitness, Food, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Privatization, Role of Government, social pressures

Do you Prioritize Your Life or Your Work? Maybe It Is Time to Rethink

An article on the Harvard Business Review blog called, “If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will,” really made me think. I also read a thoughtful blog post on a similar subject over at Truth and Cake called “Save Your Own Ass.”

The concept behind both of these posts is simple: take care of yourself first because if you don’t, no one else will.

The Harvard Business Review article tells the story of a man who attended a meeting the day after his child was born, because he thought he should. While attending the meeting, the man realized that he really should have been with his wife and newborn child instead of at this routine business meeting.

This got me thinking about times when I have felt conflicted between work obligations and home obligations. One of these moments happened just last week.

As many of you know, we had a wildfire directly in front of our house last week. I was scheduled to drive five hours for an all day work meeting last Friday. I felt that I had to go to the meeting, but was concerned to travel so far from home at that moment.

I felt like I “should” make the meeting. My bosses over the years have been very supportive when I needed to bow out of something because of an emergency at home. It is not pressure from my employers that has made me feel that I need to meet my obligations at work, regardless of the situation at home.

I ended up calling into the meeting last week instead of travelling, which I thought was a good compromise. And we were fortunate that the weather and the firefighters helped quell the fire quickly. My colleagues at the meeting were very understanding as, I’m sure, the colleagues of the author of the Harvard Business Review blog post would have been on the day after his child’s birth.

I don’t know what makes these types of decisions more difficult than they need to be. Perhaps at times like these I need to remember to repeat my new mantra gleaned from the sage bloggers at Truth and Cake and the Harvard Business Review: Take care your yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will.

What do you think? What is it that makes us often feel the need to neglect the things in life that are most important, even when it is not necessary that we do so? Is it because we take for granted that the people and things we love will always be there, but work is fleeting? But doesn’t that make it even more important that we tend to our personal needs, lives and loves? Have you learned any lessons about this the hard way or the easy way that you would like to share? Any tips for people who struggle with these types of decisions?

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

If you liked this, you might also like:

The Freedom of a Vacation: Why Would We Give That Up? 

The Importance of Slowing Down in a Busy Bee Culture

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

Give Me a Break: Why Do the US Jobs Offer So Little Vacation Time?  

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Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Forest Fires, Health, Parenting, Peace, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Women, Youth Leadership

The Ritalan Generation: Why Do Some Children Fall Behind in School?

David Brooks has an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times about how today’s schools leave some children behind.

He points out statistics showing that boys are falling behind girls in school and he posits a theory that this is because our school culture has become too homogenous. He claims that contemporary schools only promote teamwork and collaboration, instead of also including competition and military values.

His theory is that a diversity of teaching styles could help prevent some of the more active children from falling through the cracks and acting out.

I like the idea of diversity of thinking and feel that always adds value. But the bigger issue for me has to do with the homogeneity of the courses and teaching methods in schools today. The focus on teaching to a test has required teachers to shy away from using less traditional teaching styles and methods.

If teachers were able to tailor their classes more, perhaps they would able to find alternative ways to engage students with different learning styles.

Another factor to consider when discussing hyperactive children in the classroom is the overuse of medication that has proliferated over the past twenty years. I wonder if this is a direct result of the inability of teachers to tailor their classes because of the pressures to teach to the test.

That direct correlation may be a bit of a stretch, but if we are going to talk about kids who are falling behind, we must talk about the impact of the overmedication of our youth.

Kids in my generation were not overmedicated and there was no pressure to teach to a test. We had plenty of hyperactive kids – in fact I was probably one of them – but without medication, we turned out fine.

That last statement makes me sound like an old lady, talking about walking three miles barefoot to school in the snow when I was younger, and maybe that is who I have become. But I think it is interesting to explore our cultural history in order to find a path forward.

I have a philosophy for the most part of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I am sure the education system had significant problems when I was younger, but it does seem to have even more challenges now.

I am not a teacher, but I know that several of my readers are and many parents also read this blog. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about this and suggestions for solutions to ensure that all kids can learn the skills necessary for future success.

What do you think? Do you feel like the culture in schools is homogenous to a fault? Do you think that this could be addressed, in part, by allowing teachers to have more flexibility in the classroom? How do you feel about the medications that so many kids are prescribed today? Do you think that hyperactive children are falling behind in school? And what suggestions do have to address this issue?

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

If you liked this post, you might also like:

How Micromanaging Educators Stifles Reform

Making Education Brain Science

Forget Them! What Do YOU Want to Be When You Grow Up?

 

 

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Education, equality, Ethics, Parenting, Relationships, social pressures, Sports, Stereotypes, Youth Leadership

The Power of Strengths and Weaknesses: Giving Kids Permission to Just Be

Photo Courtesy of Danny Brown

The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop window at one corner of the plaza. “When he was a child, that man wanted to travel, too. But he decided first to buy his bakery  and put some money aside. When he is an old man, he’s going to spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

“He should have decided to become a shepherd,” the boy said.

“Well, he thought about that,” the old man said. “But bakers are more important people than shepherds.”…

“In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends.”

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

 

A New York Times article, “Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary” has been on the list of the most e-mailed articles for some time now. This topic fits with the theme of the last few weeks on this blog, so I thought I would explore this issue further.

The article discusses the tendency, at least in the United States, for people to push their children to excel at all levels, filling their time with activities and events which provide further opportunities to compete with their peers.

I am sure many of you read about a commencement speech earlier this year where the speaker told the students that they were not exceptional. The reactions to this speech were heated.

But perhaps the speaker was just trying to give the students permission to find value and define success differently than their parents and society prescribe. Perhaps the speaker was trying to help students understand that it is OK to have both strengths and weaknesses.

The constant drive to compete is positive in many ways. It can lead to innovation and progress.But at what price? Where is creativity encouraged?

What about the artist who is not strong at math or writing, but can compose a symphony or paint a beautiful landscape? Where is the encouragement for this type of success?

Where is the recognition of people who may not be academics, but build and maintain personal relationships better than most?

Part of the stress many of us feel, where people run themselves ragged at all times and fail to disconnect from work, even when on vacation, seems to come from this drive. People think, “If I don’t stay connected, will people think that I am not a hard worker? Will I appear to lack ambition?”

What are we teaching our children with these messages? Are we teaching our children to develop the same neuroses that we have developed, where the prioritization of work over relationships is sorely misaligned?

This problem has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. It is striking to me, how every speech by a major politician is peppered with statements that the United States is the best country in the world.

There are many areas where the United States excels and there are also areas, like healthcare, where the United States has much to learn from the rest of the world. The US has strengths and weaknesses, just like any person or child. And is there really anything wrong with that?

What do you think? What do you think accounts for people’s relentless drive to be the best and to push their children to be the best? Have you dealt with these pressures as a parent or an employee? Do you have any tips for others who would like to readjust their priorities and goals? Do you feel that this drive alienates potential teammates in a workplace or a social environment? Why do you think this issue has gotten so much attention lately? Do you think the intensity of the pressures have increased recently? And if so, why do you think that is?

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

 

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Filed under Books, Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Health, International, Parenting, Peace, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, travel, Women, Youth Leadership

The Freedom of a Vacation: Why Would We Give That Up?

Copyright JC Politi Photography

 

Without the ability to be gay and treat serious things lightly after the serious thinking is done and the decision is reached, I doubt whether any man could long carry the job of being President of the United States.
Eleanor Roosevelt

An article in the New York Times called “Vacation Sabotage: Don’t Let it Happen to You,” is interesting, especially in light of the robust discussions we have had on this blog about the challenges of finding work-life balance.

The article discusses things that we do to ensure that we are unable to relax, even when on vacation.It offers several helpful tips and suggestions.

We all know how this works and this article validates our experience. The first few days of vacation, it can be difficult to unwind. The last few days of a vacation, we dread returning to real life. Hopefully, we can find a few days in between, where we actually relax.

With the onslaught of technology, especially e-mail and smart phones, many of us remain connected even while on vacation. I am guilty of this myself. I don’t want to return to an avalanche of messages in my inbox, so I handle minor things while on vacation.

But I have considered the dangers of doing this. If something significant occurs and I learn about it while on vacation, what happens to the relaxation and disconnection that is meant to help prepare me to handle these crisis in a better way upon my return?

I lived in New York City when I graduated from college. I remember being overwhelmed by the intensity of the city. I thought Central Park would be a refuge from all of that, but I found the intensity still palpable; it like people were intensely relaxing.

I have written much here about the importance of slowing down and finding a balance between work and life. But if we cannot even give ourselves permission to disconnect when we’re on vacation, what hope do we have?

CopyrightJC Politi Photography

The good news in the article is that we seem to view three day weekends and one day holidays differently than we do vacations.

So, this 4th of July, for those of you in the United States, let’s commit to turning off our work messages completely.

Let’s enjoy the heat that slows everything to a snail’s pace and notice the coolness of the water when we swim and the savor the tastes of the food on the grill and a refreshing cold drink. Let’s take time to laugh with family and friends and play with our pets. Now THAT is freedom!

What do you think? Do we feel the need to remain connected when we are on vacation because of the expectations of our employers or do our employers have these expectations because we remain connected on vacation? Do you have trouble disconnecting when you are on vacation? Do you check e-mail when you are gone?

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

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Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Health, Parenting, Peace, Photos, Relationships, Social Media, social pressures, travel

The Importance of Slowing Down in a Busy Bee Culture

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There is more to life than increasing its speed.
Mohandas K. Gandhi

An article on the Opinionator blog of the New York Times called “The Busy Trap” is getting a lot of attention this week.

This article explores the notion that the frenetic pace so many of us engage in on a daily basis is self-imposed. While the author’s approach seems a bit self-indulgent and impractical, he has a point.

So many of us rush from place to place or appointment to appointment and collapse at the end of the day in front of the television in exhaustion. It appears that we are encouraging our children to do the same. There must be another way.

While I understand that most of us cannot live lives devoid of professional work, finding a balance within this reality has become my personal quest.

One of the lines that spoke to me in this article was this:

I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love.

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My most creative and innovative ideas come, not when I am rushing between meetings, but during times of relaxation, sometimes through exercise or through conversations with friends. I know I am not alone.

Some companies, I believe Google is one, reserve 20 percent of their employees’ time for creative endeavors that interest that particular employee. Some of the most innovative ideas have come from this unstructured time.

We all know this. And yet, we fill our calendars to the brim, feeling inadequate if we have a Saturday evening without plans. In fact, that Saturday evening may turn out be the exact time when you discover the key to your own fulfillment, simply by being, instead of doing.

Some of the secret joys of living are not found by rushing from point A to point B, but by inventing some imaginary letters along the way.
Douglas Pagels

What do you think? What is it that makes us feel the need to stay busy? Do you think this has to do with a general discomfort with being alone? Have you struggled with this? Do you have any tips to help people stop the constant spinning?

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

54 Comments

Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Environment, Health, Parenting, Peace, Photos, Relationships, social pressures, Technology

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

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

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

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

Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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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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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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