Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Obama's State of the Union: moving on

Peter Beinart at the Atlantic provides a thoughtful overview of Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night:

Understanding what Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was really about requires first understanding what it wasn’t about: Debt. For the first time since the early days of his presidency, President Obama offered an economic message freed from the crippling politics of austerity.
That becomes clearer when you look at Obama’s past speeches. First year-presidents don’t technically give a “state of the union” address,” but on February 24, 2009, Obama rose before Congress to give the functional equivalent. In it, he began telling the story that he hoped would guide his domestic policy. He said the financial crisis afflicting the nation was the symptom of a deeper malady, which had begun many years before. That malady was America’s failure to foster the kind of widely shared economic growth it had enjoyed in the decades after World War II. “Now is the time to act boldly and wisely,” he declared, “to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.

For a time, “new foundation” looked like Obama’s version of “New Deal” or “New Frontier”: the phrase that summed up his economic vision. Under its rubric in that 2009 speech, Obama proposed not only a stimulus to revive the economy, but big energy, education, and healthcare initiatives designed to lay “the foundation for our common prosperity” once the financial crisis subsided. Although he pledged to cut the deficit too, it was a distinctly lesser theme.

Read more:


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter activities in Minnesota: wind surfing, kite flying, etc. during a blizzard

So what better way to spend a Sunday in the midst of the latest polar vortex to hit the Twin Cities? Why, just  drive out to Lake Calhoun and take photos of a windsurfer, a kite flyer, and the Minneapolis  skyline. My son ventured out into the blizzard and went over to Lake Calhoun to take some pictures that he posted on Capture Minnesota:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Celebrating the present moment in subzero temps!

My apartment building's courtyard in mid-winter.
 The extreme weather this winter is conducive to counting my blessings.  First on the list are my son and his wife who live nearby and a supportive network of friends and neighbors!

In the meantime, I woke up this morning here in the Midwest to 15 degrees below with a windchill of 38 degrees below. Thankfully my home is warm and cozy, and my kitchen is well stocked with food and yes, a good supply of coffee.

I have a fascinating novel on hand and access online to beautiful classical and meditation music. I've already meditated and worked out this morning, and my apartment building offers long carpeted hallways that serve as an indoor track for walking several times per day. Phone and email are available as needed.

The present moment is rich and full even as I grieve for those not as fortunate as I and pray that our Congress will demonstrate compassion for the unemployed and all those who are struggling to survive this January in arguably the wealthiest country in the world.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

MLK Jr. holiday is not a "black holiday"

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author and political analyst, reminds us of the struggle required to establish the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in America, "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Hutchinson vividly recalls the many fronts toward equality for all and world peace that King launched prior to his assassination:

It took years of public protest and finally legislative action before Virginia in 2000 finally separated the state holiday commemorating Confederate generals and icons Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the Martin Luther King national holiday. But Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi haven't been moved by the protests and still commemorate Lee's birthday along with the King holiday. This is the most glaring example of the still deep ambivalence and even blind eye toward the King holiday. But it's hardly the only example. It's become almost ritual to hear tales of school districts that refuse to close, businesses that refuse to make even a token acknowledgement of the day, or worse commercialize it, and for some GOP politician to say something dumb about King on his holiday.

The blind eye, indifference or even out right disrespect of the King holiday 28 years after the first King national holiday was officially observed shouldn't really surprise. It took decades and hard battles to get the King federal holiday bill enacted in the first place. Along the way the King family and millions of King admirers and devotees had to watch and listen to right-wing talking heads, led by one time North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, heap every kind of slander, slur and abuse on King as a communist, agitator, unpatriotic, plagiarizer, and sexual philanderer. Then in what has to be one of the most galling flip-flops of hypocrisy in living annals, they have to listen to the same right-wing King maligners snatch a few quotes badly out of context from his speeches and writings about self-help and black crime and claim him as one of their own.

It still remains to be seen what effect the repeated public appeals from President Obama and Michelle Obama urging Americans to make the King holiday a day for public service will have. Obama certainly owes a deep gratitude to King and the civil rights movement. It opened the political doors for him and a generation of other black political figures. But his presidential appeals so far haven't been enough to crack the lingering resistance to a full and total acknowledgement of the world altering significance of King and the movement that he led. The reason for that is simple. 


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Women and poverty

Courtesy of Sojourners Magazine at
 It's noteworthy when a religious leader of any stripe openly supports the empowerment of women, but Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners Magazine, has never feared speaking out for justice for all people. The continued impoverishment of the female population in America is on Jim's mind a lot lately:

Watching the news cycle for the past week or so, I have been pleasantly surprised at how much the issue of poverty is being discussed. There have been many analyses of the successes and failures of the War on Poverty, the 50th anniversary of which we marked last week. But there is one report that has particularly fascinated me -- and many others -- as it describes how women have been struggling the most against poverty in the United States. In partnership with the Center for American Progress, this year's Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink examines the problem of poverty as it pertains to women and proposes solutions to eradicate it.

Although those of us who have lived and worked in low-income neighborhoods have witnessed firsthand how poverty affects women and their children, seeing the numbers laid out is still overwhelming. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the country are women. Forty percent of families with children 18 or under have women as either a sole or primary breadwinner. And despite the gains that women have made in the workplace, the median earnings of women working full time are only 77 percent of what the median earnings are for men in similar roles. In Maria Shriver's essay from the report, "A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink: Powerful and Powerless," she writes, "[m]any of these women feel they are just a single incident -- one broken bone, one broken-down car, one missed paycheck -- away from the brink."

These statistics are not just fodder for ideological debates. They reveal our priorities and values as a nation. And it will take both a spiritual and social movement to change national direction and policy.

Read more:


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Starting the day right

To start my day right in 2014, I get into my warm robe and slippers, make my bed, and prepare a cup of regular instant coffee with lots of cream. While the water for my coffee is heating, I freshen my flowers that bring me so much joy.

Coffee in hand I return to my bedroom where there are fewer distractions. I get comfy on the edge of my bed and bask in the soft warm glow of my bedside lamp while sipping my favorite beverage -incidentally, a cup of coffee symbolizes friendship in my dreams, and cream suggests kindness.

A gentle workout relieves the stiffness in my body before I resume my seated position on the edge of my bed, turn off my lamp, close my eyes, and rein in my thoughts to pay attention to my breathing, which unavoidably reminds me of the gift of life.

Feeling calm and centered, I return to my kitchen where I reflect on recent experiences in my daily journal. After which, I flip open the new laptop the kids gave me for Christmas this year. The Internet is my portal to the wide world via email, comics, Facebook friends, and the daily news - I like keeping up with stuff.

At the conclusion of my early morning routine, I feel richly blessed - what a luxury to have the time,  space, and requisite solitude to daily nurture my mind, body, and spirit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bill George's reading list for mindful living

Bill George, Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO, and Best-Selling author, has practiced mindfulness meditation for many years. He recently recommended a list of books on mindful living to help us become "better leaders and more fulfilled human beings."

Bill's list includes:

 Focus by Dan Goleman

Why Meditate? by Matthieu Ricard

Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg 

Wonder Women by Deborah Spar

Becoming a Genuine Leader by Marilyn Mason 

Finding the Space to Lead, by Janice Marturano 

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown 

Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Christie’s scandals: Bridgegate and Stronger than the Storm

Christie Administration Announces $57 Million Sandy Housing And Rental Assistance Program, Oct. 22, 2013. Photo from

In late December 2013, a national CNN poll suggested Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton would be tied if the 2016 election were held today. Previous polls also showed widespread enthusiasm for the New Jersey Republican governor in opposition to Clinton in the next presidential race. Let it be noted, that Clinton stayed out ahead of the remaining Republican pack of eight potential candidates.

Naturally, Hillary haters, especially pseudo-progressives who swarm the comment pages at the Huffington Post, were ecstatic at the possibility that Christie might take the leading prospective female candidate down.

And then we got Bridgegate and now we have “Stronger than the Storm,” i. e., Hurricane Sandy, erupting across the national political landscape. Check out Dana Liebelson’s coverage of Christie’s latest scandal in Mother Jones:

On Monday, CNN reported that federal officials are investigating whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie misused Hurricane Sandy relief funds to produce tourism ads that functioned as campaign spots when he was running for reelection. The allegations come as Christie is already immersed in scandal after internal emails suggested that a close aide to the governor—who has now been fired—orchestrated a traffic jam near the George Washington Bridge for the sake of political revenge. With the bridge episode now being investigated by the US attorney for New Jersey, this latest news means Christie, a leading potential GOP presidential contender in 2016, is facing two federal probes.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hushing my ego

The past several months have been an intense period for me and at times I've been buffeted about by jarring encounters with disgruntled folks among my acquaintances trapped in a them vs. us conflict. Despite good intentions, I've not always handled these unsettling situations well, reacting sometimes out of pain and anger instead of stepping back, taking a deep breath or two, and responding thoughtfully.

In between times, I've wound up feeling raw and depleted. An introvert, more or less, I can struggle alone for days without it occurring to me to seek aid and comfort. In the midst of the above turmoil, however,  I incidentally visited with a good friend with whom I've practiced mindfulness meditation, conversed with a Catholic sister who crossed my path (I'm not Catholic), and met with a Qi Gong master.  Each of the foregoing individuals happens to be spiritually grounded.And I was aware during my interactions with them of healing energy. In each instance, I left feeling a lovely sense of ease.

Just yesterday, I was gifted again in the company of two long-time friends with whom I share a spiritual bond.

Also on the plus side, this challenging period in my life has helped me become more alert to my own negative feelings and periodic flareups of my egoistic needs. Slowly but surely I'm becoming more skillful in staying calm and centered in difficult circumstances.

P.S. I would  love to hear from readers who have shared similar experiences.



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Let's enjoy a celebratory moment or two

The front elevator of our seniors' apartment building was recently out of order for several days causing major inconvenience, especially to tenants with disabilities. The necessity to order a part caused additional delay. Understandably a lot of grumbling was heard in the nooks and crannies of the common areas of the building where neighbors gathered to air their grievances.

I was in the lobby when the two repairmen announced their work was done - the elevator was operating again. Our assistant building manager was standing nearby, and she and I burst into applause and shouted "Woohoo!"

 We were relieved the problem had been resolved and enjoyed a celebratory moment. Not so for several neighbors who chimed in with comments such as:

"Should've been done a lot sooner."
"They should keep elevator parts on hand."
"They should get another elevator service company."
"It's never been down this long before - our new manager should be fired."

Thus the past overshadowed a possibly happy present moment.

The present moment was sabotaged again this Friday when I went grocery shopping. All the while he was bagging my groceries, the store employee grumbled that the warmer temps yesterday would not last - we'd be back in the deep freeze within a few days. I tried to interrupt his monologue with "Hey, how about enjoying today?"

No dice. He kept up his pessimistic commentary on our local weather.

I'm thinking this morning that mindfulness gurus have a point in urging practitioners to discipline themselves to stay with the present moment instead of grumbling about the past or wallowing in pessimism about the future, even if it's just about Minnesota weather in January.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Losing the war on poverty?

Public domain photo.
It's not exactly breaking news: America, the richest nation in the world, has 46 million people living at a subsistence level income or less. Annie Lowery at the NY Times updates us 50 years after Lyndon Johnson launched the war on poverty:

WASHINGTON — To many Americans, the war on poverty declared 50 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson has largely failed. The poverty rate has fallen only to 15 percent from 19 percent in two generations, and 46 million Americans live in households where the government considers their income scarcely adequate. 

But looked at a different way, the federal government has succeeded in preventing the poverty rate from climbing far higher. There is broad consensus that the social welfare programs created since the New Deal have hugely improved living conditions for low-income Americans. At the same time, in recent decades, most of the gains from the private economy have gone to those at the top of the income ladder. 

Half a century after Mr. Johnson’s now-famed State of the Union address, the debate over the government’s role in creating opportunity and ending deprivation has flared anew, with inequality as acute as it was in the Roaring Twenties and the ranks of the poor and near-poor at record highs. Programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps are keeping millions of families afloat. Republicans have sought to cut both programs, an illustration of the intense disagreement between the two political parties over the best solutions for bringing down the poverty rate as quickly as possible, or eliminating it.

For poverty to decrease, “the low-wage labor market needs to improve,” James P. Ziliak of the University of Kentucky said. “We need strong economic growth with gains widely distributed. If the private labor market won’t step up to the plate, we’re going to have to strengthen programs to help these people get by and survive.”