A Life Well-Spent

As we proceed through life, many of us struggle with endless clashes between the tactical and strategic aspects of human existence.

The tactical problems begin with food, water, shelter and education.

The strategic begin with where one wants to live and what job to take, whom to marry, how many children to have.

Most people rarely distinguish between strategic and tactical perspectives in utilizing their time and focusing their energy. Consequently, the general human life process is to move forward one step at a time, adjusting, if at all, as best one can going along. That is frequently accompanied by the often mistaken instinct to favor the urgent over what may be more important.

How can modern society encourage more people to look at the larger context of their existence, even while they are in the embrace of their day-to-day lives and simple survival? Most people, if they are at all aware of the big picture, only dream of seeing and reaching their full potential and their promised lands.

One way would be to develop more material in schools about life’s choices and how to select goals that fit potential. Young children often begin by thinking about becoming firefighters, police and teachers, but otherwise know very little about other life options. They need many more and earlier examples dramatizing how people from humble starts have been able to benefit from those possibilities.

An aspect of that illumination may take place for some people in various “day of rest” activities — like Sunday School. There is no question that biblical teachings can have a useful bearing on the issues of life’s choices.

However, since religious involvement is shrinking in many parts of the country, there surely is need for ways to expose children to these ideas. It may make sense to try to introduce, through various social organizations, including social networks, more mentoring programs that help with the issues of life’s choices, particularly focused on helping young people broaden their skills to match their talents and meet our economy’s changing shape and needs.

The more people ultimately know about their options, the more likely they are to choose and make the effort to take advantage of their lives’ vast opportunities.

I wonder how many people ever have a five-year plan, much less a 20-year plan. If they never think about the arc of their lives, they inevitably forego opportunities to bend that arc to seek their dreams. How many people make pros and cons lists as they encounter crossroads in their lives? When they get to the fork in the road, they simply take it.

Some people spend two weeks researching prices and customer satisfaction and performance data about a possible new car. But rarely, or never, do people spend even a minute thinking about what their neighbors might say about their life when they are gone, because they have been taught to believe it is nobody’s business.

As we march through the recovery from the 2008 recession it becomes clearer all the time that we have a mismatch of experience and skills, with 2 to 3 million jobs unfilled, when as many as 12 million people remain unemployed, because the skills needed do not exist in part because not enough people had the will or the foresight to develop those skills while they still had a chance earlier in their lives.

Therefore, it is incumbent on each and all of us to work on life’s choices early enough to accomplish more satisfaction in our lives and at the same time hopefully to reduce society’s unemployment so that our neighbors are more likely to say, “That was a life well-spent.”

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Chief Justice Roberts Is Devilishly Clever

The recent Supreme Court decision upholding the Obamacare law contains several quite amazing and also scary elements.

The first is the simple fact that to everyone’s surprise Justice Roberts was the swing vote. It has been reported that he switched his vote late in the decision process.

In all events, from the point of view of most Democrats, however he got there it is net-net a good thing.

However, to get there he joined with the conservative minority in the case to throw the Commerce Clause under the bus, which is fundamentally a very scary thing because it has been the cornerstone of how the Federal government has managed the U.S. economy for most of our history.

In one stroke he upheld health care — a good thing. He put a serious crimp in the Commerce Clause — a very bad thing; and he quite cynically at the same time sought to restore faith and confidence in the Supreme Court for upholding such an important law — which is, if it were sincere, a good thing.

His decision is cynical because by using the Federal power to tax as the pretext for the Federal power to mandate purchase of health care insurance, it looks surprisingly like he was trying to sow the seeds of an Obama reelection defeat, which in turn probably would lead to the repeal of the law which he voted to uphold.

And, if he had voted to declare the law unconstitutional, if and when Obama is reelected, Obama surely would have sought to get a new version of the law passed again.

Most people knew Roberts was a smart guy. If this set of thoughts has any merit, he is a lot smarter and cleverer than most people ever imagined.

But, that is not all that he was being clever about. By upholding the law based upon calling the cost of purchasing health care a tax, he opened the door to Romney being able to say, “Look, Obama just raised your taxes.” Nominally that argument may appear to have some merit, but again it really is not a tax in any conventional sense, it is simply the cost of purchasing — at a very reasonable price by the way — health care insurance which people need for themselves and to keep the whole system of health care from having to subsidize health care given to uninsured people, when they get into the system and get free rider care.

And, to make it worse, that alleged “tax” is in effect levied largely on poorer people to lighten the argument against raising taxes on the richest people. Perhaps Roberts was hoping those poorer people would not like being taxed that way and would vote for Romney to help him get elected and then try to repeal the health care law.

If you care at all about the future direction of the Supreme Court and who will name successor Justices in the next four years, do not be mislead by Roberts’ head fake and apparent conversion to a sensible middle road swing position, which he might also have intended to help Romney get elected by lowering any Democrat concerns about the problem of future appointments to the Court.

So whatever you may think about health care, BEWARE the future role of the Supreme Court in shaping national policy matters in making your decision how to vote this November.

In Switzerland, An Inn That Spans Five Generations (PHOTOS)

As we work our way through the detritus from summer storms and fiscal chaos, it is always helpful to be on the lookout for clues about how better to manage life.

For the past 25 years my wife and I, and sometimes our children and grandchildren, have been hiking in Switzerland for recreation, health and time together. We have visited many places, had many adventures and have made many friends. Out of those experiences we have learned that a family that walks together talks together. It is a helpful and genuine tonic.

Gradually, we have begun to observe some of the outlines of the local cultures and patterns that are reliable predictors of the kind of places we like best. We have been doing this long enough to have watched the changing of the guard at several places we have stayed.

One that is most intriguing is in the Engadine Valley in Switzerland — a small mountain farm town called Guarda (not the Lake of Garda) — where 125 years ago a family named Meisser first began taking guests to share the pleasures of summers in their mountain paradise more than 5,000 feet above sea level. The buildings, rooms and décor, while sufficiently modernized, have changed little in a century. We first visited under the management of the fourth generation, who then passed ownership to their son in the fifth generation 10 years ago. (www.hotel-meisser.ch)

This piece is not a travel piece but it is a reflection on how our world works. It is about places that have and maintain a consistent family culture and at the same time adapt and change as the world around them inevitably moves ahead.

In its first two generations the visitors almost entirely came from elsewhere in Switzerland and some from Germany. Whole families came generally for three weeks at a time. Some people came with their own servants. The inn maintained a simple but modestly elegant service with quiet formality and comfort for its 20 rooms. The days were energetic with hiking, languorous with tea and dinner and peppered as well with amiable chat about the Swiss economy and the royalty of Europe.

The third generation began to see visits from farther abroad. Strange languages like English, as well as French and Spanish — even Russian — began to be common. Then came WWII which brought normal patterns to a halt and sent the Meissers went back to growing their own food. Thereafter, people still stayed for a week or so but a trend toward more rapid movement had begun. And the Meissers could no longer rely entirely upon nearby regulars to keep their beds and tables full for a whole summer.

The fourth generation, when we first visited, saw the first signs of group travel and a typical stay of less than a week for most visitors. The early Meisser family members had not been formally trained in inn keeping but they had learned from their parents and continued all family traditions. Change was still something to avoid. Visitors wanted to be reassured that everything they had experienced in the past would persist.

Then amazingly, in a new world of massive, rapid change, a son of the fifth Meisser generation, who began in his youth as an independent renegade, took an interest and studied to be a chef and innkeeper. When he was in his late 20s his parents suggested it was time for him to begin to take charge. He found the perfect wife, who bought into the idea of settling into the family enterprise with him. Following tradition, they undertook to buy out the parents and a sister over an extended period. They also had modern ideas which sparked some quiet clashing between the generations.

Changes — without change — proceeded in subtle ways. The average stay is again three to four days, and now guests find Wi-Fi, electric mountain bikes, guided mountain tours, a professional chef and a marketing program. There are relatively fewer Swiss visitors today, as many visitors now arbitrage their holiday plans according to the relative value of the Swiss franc, the euro, the U.S. dollar and other currencies, including now the Chinese yuan.

But the fundamentals persist: the scenery, mountain trails, wildflowers (including wild orchids!), fresh mountain air and especially the welcoming family attitude exemplified by the adorable ankle-biting sixth generation of Meisser kids.

While the line between staff and family remains clear in their dress, everyone is focused on making each guest feel like part of the extended Meisser family. No one is ever just a number; everyone is a friend. That sense is palpable and does not come from any modern management ideas but from everyone’s sense of community fueled by pride in the continuous five generations.

In today’s world of homogenization, TV, clash of civilizations, instant need for gratification and signs of danger all around, this five-generation family inn is an example for hope.

If only we could all pause long enough to enjoy the smell of the new-cut hay, perhaps we could think about what binds us together more than what drives us apart.

And, it doesn’t hurt to have fun tickling the belly of a rambunctious two-year-old boy, the likely sixth generation owner, who may someday be host to our present three great grandchildren.
It’s not often we get a chance to peek at the future we will not live to see!

All You Need to Know About Romney

After Romney spoke to the NAACP this past week and he was booed after he promised to kill Obamacare, he said something a day or two later in Hamilton, Mont., “Remind them of this: if they want more stuff from government, let them go vote for the other guy. But, do not forget, nothing is really free.”

This statement is simply astonishing, and even if it is claimed that he “misspoke” or is out of context, it truly boggles the mind for either stupidity or complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the existing role of the Federal Government.

While I have not made a scientific study of the statistical implications of that statement, I nevertheless believe I can say with almost 100 percent certainty that the total size of the population he was indirectly addressing is well over 75 percent of the whole population of the United States.

Let’s make a little list of ten larger categories of people who do receive benefits today from government:

  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Medicaid
  • Small Business loans and bank deposit guarantees
  • Education loans
  • Investment tax credits
  • Medical research
  • Transportation support
  • Food and drug protection

That list is the tip top of the iceberg of what the U.S. population gets today from the Federal budget.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, more categories. It is almost safe to say that every American gets something today from the federal budget even though most people are not aware, or fully aware, and they take it for granted.

Whether it was a good idea or not to get the American people so dependent on the Federal Government is not the topic of this piece. And, I am willing to stipulate that perhaps we have gone too far in some arenas particularly. But this piece is not a forum for that discussion.

That said, the idea that we should elect someone who proposes so brazenly and clearly to effectively propose to rip up and throw away today’s social contract is almost bizarre for two reasons: (1) if it did happen we would positively see a much worse economic climate overnight and (2) happily, it is unimaginable that the voting population would be taken in to receive that poisonous gas.

The statement of Romney’s is reminiscent of Walter Mondale’s gamble during the 1984 Democratic Convention when he famously said apropos of taxes, “He [Ronald Reagan] will tell you he won’t raise taxes, when he is planning to, I will tell you now that I will raise taxes — so trust me!” It is true that Mondale was throwing a last minute desperation pass to try to gain traction by being sensible and honest. This Romney statement must be such a long throw to appeal to and energize the far right, but it is so wrongheaded that his desperation at this stage is downright amazing.

The only thing that now stands between Obama and a second term is Obama’s ability to make certain that every person in America becomes aware of the statement and understands the full implications on her/himself, as well as the whole country.