Inspiration Women: Sojourner Truth (via Alfre Woodard)

Inspiration Women: Sojourner Truth (via Alfre Woodard)

Alfre Woodard reads “Ain’t I a Woman?”, a speech delivered by abolitionist Sojourner Truth at the Women’s Convention in 1851. Many talented actresses have shared this piece, but Alfre blows it out of the water. Watch HERE

Capturing the Goddess in Everyday Women

Photographer Lisa Levart’s passion is to connect women with their inner Goddess. She writes in her Huffington Post blog, “To me, a goddess is a woman living her life with authenticity, passion and power. Inspired and inspiring, a goddess—on earth— speaks her truth and stands up for what she believes.” Author of Goddess on Earth: Portraits of the Divine Feminine, Lisa chronicles amazing women in the public eye, and those all around us. Check out her latest post and upcoming multimedia exhibit.

Hollywood Calling? Female Driven Films Gross $4 Bn

Ellen Degeneres was a hoot as host, but the unsung story of this year’s Oscar awards is that films driven by female leads in 2013 made money – big money. As the mother of Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o told her — you can’t eat beauty — it doesn’t feed you. (See Lupita’s incredible speech on beauty HERE)

A crop of female driven films, such as Gravity, Frozen, Hunger Games, and The Heat have brought in an estimated $4 billion. Will it be enough that ‘old school’ studio types will stop ignoring this burgeoning market? As Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment said, “Women have to help each other more. It’s our duty.

Click HERE for our Fem-Nominal Women talk with screenwriter Delia Ephron.

Coming Soon: Marialisa Walton Zywotchenko: Entrepreneur, Contractor, Mom, Veteran, & More

Our next Women’s Work segment features Marialisa “Z” — a kickass general contractor busting through barriers every day. She’s incredible — once you see her in action, we’re sure you’ll agree!

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WATCH: Senator Gillibrand & The FAMILY Act

WATCH: Senator Gillibrand & The FAMILY Act


Sen. Gillibrand (NY) visits MasterCard headquarters to highlight their family friendly policies. She and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT) are Co-Sponsors of the FAMILY Act.

The US leads the world in many areas, but it lags behind in the area of paid maternal & family leave, one of only a handful of countries yet to adopt this global standard. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand seeks to address the gap with new legislation. The FAMILY Act would create an independent trust, funded by employer/employee contributions (about the cost of a cup of coffee per week), based on programs already underway at the state level. Under the Family & Medical Leave Law (of 1993), employees may take time off for serious health related issues, but nearly half cannot afford to do so because it’s unpaid.

Source: The New York Times: “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move From Surviving to Thriving” by Jody Heymann With Kristen McNeill

Dr. Donna Nelson: Breaking Bad’s Science Advisor

NY Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins tells Feminomics she is behind efforts to enact paid family leave in the NY State, similar to laws guaranteeing 6 weeks of paid leave in California and New Jersey. And in New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio has announced he will expand the right to paid sick leave to cover all workers at businesses with 5 or more employees.

Paid Parental Leave the Standard at Top Companies

Working Mother encourages companies to vie for a spot on their “100 Best Companies” list for working mothers. Firms undergo an in-depth review of their practices, competing against hundreds of their peers. Below is a table of where their 100 Best Companies stand on paid parental leave — and here’s a summary of their 2013 findings.

Source: 100 Best Companies 2013 —

Register Today! Women’s Networking Event (Free)
Thursday, February 6th 5:30 to 7:30 pm


Women’s After Hours Informal Networking Event:
Pier 701 Restaurant & Bar
Piermont, NY 10968
Please RSVP by Jan. 30th:

Resolve to be part of the ‘New Girls Club’ in 2014! Following up on the very successful Women Owned Business Breakfast last November, join female business owners and professionals at an informal after-hours networking event Thursday evening, February 6th. Space is limited, so register today using THIS LINK. RSVPs are needed by Jan. 30.

Admission is free (cash bar), light refreshments will be served. During the event, an exciting announcement will be made revealing the developments for a new alliance of female professionals and women business owners. Thanks to M&T Bank for sponsoring this event, and to WEDC (Women’s Enterprise Development Center) for its support.

Subscribe to the Feminomics You Tube Channel, ‘Like’ our videos, our Feminomics Facebook Page, and follow us on Twitter.

Change Your Posture, Change Your Life: Simple Poses to Increase Confidence & Reduce Stress

Make your New Year’s Resolutions COUNT!

Check out our Feminomics Money Minute segment for simple tools to help you set and KEEP to your goals this year. The most common resolutions relate to health and money, and making positive changes involve the same principles. CLICK HERE for more.

Change Your Posture, Change Your Life:
Simple Poses to Increase Confidence & Reduce Stress

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research has revealed that body language can not only influence how others view us, but also how we see ourselves. It impacts outcomes in work, love, and can have a significant influence on our lives. Unfortunately, women often project weakness in our non-verbal cues, reflecting the power gap many of us experience in our lives.

A TED talk Amy gave demonstrated some simple techniques we can do for two minutes (which she calls “power posing”), that actually help to increase confidence and reduce stress hormones. She says to try them before your next interview or presentation, encouraging us to ‘fake it till we make it’.

That’s exactly what Ms. Cuddy did. It turns out Amy came back from a traumatic head injury to finish college — something she was told she would not be able to do. Today she’s a noted researcher and professor at the Harvard Business School. Her video on the subject was one of the most popular TED talks ever. The photo shows Amy in what she calls the “Wonder Woman” pose.

Take a coffee break and watch her video HERE.

Want to Save More? Try the 52-Week Money Challenge

Hey, it’s a pretty common New Year’s Resolution to say we’ll save more this year, but the question is where to start? Consider the 52 Week Money Challenge, which is all the rage this year. It’s a simple rule that eases you into the habit of saving — open an account and put in $1 the first week, $2 the second week, and so on. The chart below outlines what you do week by week — it adds up nearly $1,400 by year-end.

Bear in mind that the last months are the hardest — you’ll need $200 for the final month. IF you naturally rebel against this kind of forced discipline, one blogger suggests you print out the chart, cross off a number every week, saving more when you have a bit extra cash, which will free you save smaller amounts during tight periods so you don’t get discouraged. Even if you miss a few weeks, chances are you’ll put aside at least $1000 this year. Go for it!!

SAVE THE DATE: Thursday, February 6th
Women’s Networking Event: 5:30 to 7:30 pm (FREE!)

Pier 701 Restaurant & Bar
Piermont, NY 10968

Resolve to be part of the ‘New Girls Club’ in 2014! Following up on the very successful Women Owned Business Breakfast last fall, join female business owners and professionals at an informal after-hours networking event on Thursday evening, February 6, 2014 in Piermont, NY.

Admission is free (cash bar), light refreshments will be served. During the event, an exciting announcement will be made revealing the developments for a new alliance of female professionals and women business owners. Thanks to M&T Bank for sponsoring this event, with support from WEDC (Women’s Enterprise Development Center). More info coming soon.

Left to right: Sheryl Santi Luks, Maria Whittingham, Lisa Kaess, Ann Byne, and Marilyn Hausner participated in the Women’s Business Breakfast sponsored by M&T with support from WEDC (Women’s Enterprise Development Center), November 2013.

Subscribe to the Feminomics You Tube Channel, ‘Like’ our videos, our Feminomics Facebook Page, and follow us on Twitter.

ACA for Women, Kitty Pilgrim, TWO Great Events, & Breaking Bad’s Science Advisor

Introducing interviews with high profile women:

Feminomics introduces Fem-Nominal Women — video interviews with terrific women who have something to say. Check out our chat with award-winning journalist & author Kitty Pilgrim at the WIE Symposium in New York City. Kitty was a correspondent and anchor for CNN, winning numerous industry awards. More recently she has written two adventure novels. CLICK HERE – or above TO WATCH:

Reasons to be Cheerful: Affordable Care Act (ACA) – aka ‘Obamacare’ and it’s impact on Women

OK, you’ve probably heard about the overloaded websites as the health exchanges go live today, confusing information, and now a government shut-down (hopefully temporary) in an attempt to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act (known as ‘Obamacare’). But here’s the thing — the law, parts of which already have been in place, has already helped slow the rise in health care costs, and will result in marked improvement for women.

Feminomics is in pre-production for a video segment we’ll shoot next week about the new law, interviewing industry experts and featuring our Fem on the Street, but we offer a few basics and resources for you to check out today.

Health insurance premiums (similar to car insurance) have been based on risk and use — and so women have been charged higher rates because we tend to require more services, from pregnancy and childbirth, gynecological services, to counseling for depression or domestic violence. Even though men are also bear some responsibility for these issues, women get hit with the bill, and coverage has often been denied or limited once it is deemed a ‘pre-existing” illness. With the Affordable Care Act:

“Obamacare” will include maternity coverage and services like mammograms and HPV vaccine.
  1. Starting January 1, 2014, health insurance cannot sold with gender-based pricing, used in an estimated 90% of plans in the individual market.
  2. Also as of Jan. 1, 2014, health insurers cannot deny coverage due to a pre-existing illness.
  3. As of Jan. 1, 2014, plans cannot have an annual or lifetime limit on coverage.
  4. Maternity coverage will be part of Essential Health Benefits that must be included in health policies sold as of January 1, 2014. Private plans will have to provide women with supportive services for breast feeding, including a breast pump (not all models may be covered), a lactation consultation, and larger companies must provide a place to breast feed.
  5. A variety of preventative health services will be offered to women without cost sharing (co-pays), including mammograms (40+ women every 2 years), pap smears, HPV screening and immunizations, and birth control (note: some brands may not be available and some states-religious organizations have enacted restrictions).

For more information, check out these links:

Dr. Donna Nelson: Breaking Bad’s Science Advisor

The popular University of Oklahoma professor with “Jessie” — Aaron Paul

“The writers know how to make a script popular; the science advisor knows how to get it correct.” (Dr. Donna Nelson)
Meet Dr. Donna Nelson, Professor at the University of Oklahoma, who served as Science Advisor for the epic series, Breaking Bad, which concluded this week.  In an interview, Donna discusses how she got involved with the show, her role, and how the series helped spawn renewed interest in science among the next generation.  CLICK HERE FOR LINK

Join us for TWO GREAT EVENTS in October!

Beauty & Style After Hours — with Feminomics

Thursday, October 17th
6-8 pm at LeMetric Salon
124 East 40th Street — New York City

Lisa Kaess will join the team at LeMetric for a fun evening, with refreshments, skin, hair, and maekup consults and more! With Washington mired in debt and finance talks, we’ll talk about about how you can tackle the debt in your life, and answer your money basics questions.

For more information and tickets ($15), go to:
Le Metric Salon ~ 212.986.5620

4th Annual Health & Wellness Symposium –
Workshop featuring Feminomics

Thursday, October 24th
6:30 to 10:30 pm
JCC Rockland, West Nyack

A great evening promoting women and wellness, featuring Delia Ephron, best selling author, screenwriter, and playwright. You know her films – Sisterhood of th Traveling Pants, You’ve got Mail; and she’ll talk about her new book, and her sister, the late Nora Ephron. Feminomics will lead one of 7 workshops on health and wellness topics (you’ll be able to attend two). Tickets include dinner with Delia Ephron and workshops.

For more information and tickets ($45 – includes dinner & workshops), go to:
JCC Rockland – telephone: 845.362.4400

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Feminomics Featured in Op-Ed



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Feminomics Op-Ed featured in The Journal News

An op-ed feature by Lisa Kaess was published in The Sunday Journal News, July 7, 2013, under the title, “Rethinking Rockland Economy”. It was based on discussions held by recent meetings of the Women’s Entrepreneur Group. Special thanks to Jill Pryor and the members of WEG for their input and support. It can also be found on — under the title, “Make Rockland More Small Business Friendly” (CLICK HERE for link). Photo by Anthony Geathers.


Is this best of times, the worst of times, the spring of hope or winter of despair for Rockland County? In the big picture, economic and business conditions have improved markedly. At the same time, an array of issues impacting small businesses and independent professionals signals that much work remains.

There are good tidings for Rockland. Michael DiTullo, president and CEO of the Rockland Economic Development Corporation, spoke with the Women’s Entrepreneur Group (WEG) and offered an upbeat assessment of the county. Key takeaways were:

• Corporations are relocating to and expanding in Rockland, including Fed-Ex, furniture retailer Raymour & Flannigan, window treatment manufacturer Hunter Douglas; Bloomberg Communications.
• Pfizer’s Pearl River facility is transitioning into a medical/tech R&D campus. As Pfizer reduces its presence in the county, a range of smaller firms have hired many of those downsized. It is hoped that by dividing our “eggs” among many baskets, this diversity spreads risk and helps stabilize the tax base.
• Sales tax receipts are higher (so far) in 2013. Speaking of taxes, the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance Quarterly Tax Report (cash comparison) shows sales first quarter 2013 tax receipts up 6.66 percent year on year through March, more than neighboring counties.
• Unemployment is among the lowest in New York state: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the jobless rate fell to 5.8 percent (preliminary) in Rockland County, well below upstate levels or the national rate, currently at 7.6 percent. [A broader measurement of unemployment and “underemployment” remains elevated, at 13.8 percent nationally.]

Left behind?

It’s a great story, yet it reflected a macro, big-business view. Ask small businesses, and most will tell you the world changed for them since the Great Recession. Feminomics, which offers female-friendly advice and new media content on money basics, produced a short film in which we interviewed female small business owners in late 2011. Several have since closed, while others believe leaders focused on the “big fish,” leaving them out to dry. It’s also clear that the transmission mechanism between Wall Street and Main Street has sped up, so if U.S. financial markets sneeze, Rockland gets a cold.

Weather issues also loom large, challenging the traditional economic view that “acts of God” are one-off events, with a short-term dip followed by recovery. Whether you look at the flooding issues in our towns along the Hudson, problems along Route 59 and the New York State Thruway, or freak storms in October and March, small businesses have been hit hard with lost inventory, business disruptions, and extended outages. And when local government punts on addressing infrastructure changes, small businesses (and homeowners) pay the price.

Rockland small businesses also face a variety of competitive challenges. Locally, they have had to adjust to the Palisades Center and soon to the Shops at Nanuet, while neighboring Bergen and Orange counties offer strong initiatives to attract business. Online activity grows steadily, impacting both retail and professional services. With many businesses in our villages already experiencing a reduction in foot traffic, if toll increases cited for a new Tappan Zee Bridge take place, the Lower Hudson Valley will likely see visits and spending by “day trippers” decline further.

Ideas for solutions

One thing budding entrepreneurs, tradespeople, small retailers, medical, service and creative professionals have in common is limited time, resources and ability to leverage the benefits of size. They can benefit from:

• One-stop shopping: It’s not just larger companies that need help with red tape. Even if everything is not concentrated physically in one location, it would make sense to have a central address (online perhaps) for small businesses to go countywide — and for larger ones to reach out to if they seek contractors, bidders for requests for proposals, professional services, etc. This also goes for education and events — for example, letting people know a “social media for dummies” class is available on Monday morning at RCC, Wednesday evening in the New City Library, or Saturday morning at Nyack College broadens access and potentially participation, too.
• Business groups for insurance: All firms grapple with costs, but smaller businesses face added penalties for size. A small business center could explore whether it can serve as an umbrella, helping reduce premiums for health, life, disability or professional liability insurance.
• Education/internships: An umbrella organization could bring community colleges and vocational schools together with local businesses to ensure curriculum and training focuses on the specific skill sets needed by those who can hire them. Rockland could also benefit from a more central repository for summer jobs, internships and retraining opportunities, such as the Westchester Private Summer Jobs Initiative.
• Incubators: Rockland County could benefit from targeted “incubators.” REDC talks about a medical/tech “campus” in Pearl River; one could also envision a creative arts/professional center in Nyack. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new initiative, Start Up NY, is another step in the right direction, offering R&D-focused businesses ventures the opportunity to align with upstate public sector universities and operate in special tax-free zones.
• Government certifications and resources: Programs about applying for women/minority owned status, certification to bid on government contracts, and resources from established groups like SCORE should be offered at regular intervals, rather than occasional ad-hoc events.

In the end, the objective is to collaborate and share information where possible to address deficiencies. As it stands, established business groups focus on larger businesses, smaller ones on networking, while Chambers of Commerce tend to their own town or village. The Women’s Entrepreneur Group members welcome a dialogue to see if the Rockland Economic Development Corporation or other countywide entity might enhance the local economy further by extending an umbrella to better serve the thousands of small businesses existing today all around them. We’ve got nothing to lose but jobs, tax receipts, and talent — lots of it.

The writer, a Piermont resident, launched Feminomics in 2012, and has worked as an economist and consultant in international finance.

A Change ‘Gonna Come**

It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
(Sam Cooke – 1963)

From civil unrest around the globe, prayers for the ailing Nelson Mandela, to landmark Supreme Court decisions, we are witnessing chapters drawing to a close as others struggle to emerge. With change comes uncertainty and volatility, which could also describe financial markets of late. Yields on US Treasury securities were backing up for weeks, but Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s announcement that the Fed could begin tapering down its purchases of fixed income securities later this year sent yields sharply higher. The US Treasury 10-year note yields 2.48%%, up from 1.6% in early May; this in turn pushed the average 30 year mortgage rate to 4.375%, versus 3.75% a month ago.

Current economic conditions hardly justify such a swing. The Federal Reserve’s survey of activity noted modest improvement in May, with interest rate sensitive sectors rebounding sharply. Existing home sales rose at a 5.18 million annual rate in May, new home sales rose at a 476,000 annual rate, with average home prices up about 12% year on year, (even more in Florida and Western cities). Auto sales, which have averaged just over a 15 million units annualized sales pace this year, could reach 15.7 million units in June, their best showing in 6 years. Nevertheless, higher taxes, ongoing public sector budget cuts, and limited wage gains continue to temper any economic upswing. Growth (using gross domestic product or GDP) was revised down in the first quarter to a 1.8% annual rate (from 2.4%); forecasts for the second quarter growth remain below 2%.

Let’s be clear – the Fed has not taken any action yet. Its purchases of US Treasuries and mortgage securities, which are running at $85 million per month, will remain steady for now, with the plan to slowly reduce them later this year – should conditions warrant. Chairman Bernanke and senior officials have emphasized its Fed Funds target rate remains unchanged at 0 – 0.25%. Fed parameters say it will consider raising benchmark rates when headline unemployment falls below 6.5% and inflation rises about 2.5%. With inflation subdued for now at less than 1.5% annual rate, and headline unemployment a full percent below the Fed’s target, we’ve got a ways to go. Forecasters anticipate a gradual acceleration in US growth starting later this year, leading to an eventual tightening of monetary policy later in 2014 to early 2015.

So if growth remains modest and the Fed’s overnight borrowing rate will remain near zero, why the sell-off? The chart below of 10 Year US Treasury yields, shows that in the big picture, US interest rates have steadily moved lower since the mid-1980s. While some investors may be perfectly willing to hold their securities to maturity, others – especially those who trade regularly – read the Fed’s announcement as a signal that this trend has likely run its course. So they’ve begun to sell their holdings to lock in profits.

Are we witnessing the end of an extended decline in US bond yields?
(Source Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

And the numbers confirm this move — bond funds and exchange traded funds faced record redemptions of $61.7 billion through June 24th, surpassing the previous record of October 2008. At the same time, money market funds saw assets rise by over $8 billion in the week ending June 25, indicating some investors have decided to get out of the market and hold their money in these low yielding short term funds to keep their options open.

That makes good sense, because a number of wildcards continue to concern markets. Once again international events and geopolitical pressures pose more of a threat than economic imbalances, though global growth forecasts have been revised lower. For example, Chinese authorities, in an effort to send a message to banks that it intends to rein in lending excesses, Chinese did not step in at quarter-end to address rising cash needs, resulting in a spike in short term interbank lending rates. With Chinese banks needing liquidity, they sold US Treasuries (and other holdings), exacerbating a spike which sent the 10 year yield to 2.71%, with some watchers speculating that cash strapped Chinese might have sold US Treasuries temporarily to raise liquid funds. Having made their point, the Peoples Bank of China intervened on June 25th, providing liquidity to the market, easing pressures.

We are reminded that just as early signs of recovery were derailed in 2011 by the Arab Spring and tsunami in Japan, civil strife in a number of countries, slower growth in China, and other surprises could potentially rain on our parade again. As events in Egypt have deteriorated rapidly, investors fled mutual funds focusing on emerging market bonds, withdrawing estimated $5.6 billion in the week ending June 26.

Ironically, the Fed’s discussion on withdrawing its unprecedented support of financial markets represents a sign of healing. And with the US budget deficit shrinking rapidly, authorities may reduce auction sizes in coming months, so that the ‘tapering down’ of extraordinary bond purchases would coincide with a period of dwindling supply. Nevertheless markets have become accustomed to this IV drip of money, and they are demonstrating symptoms of withdrawal. These developments remind us linkages in our markets and global economy tether us closer together than ever. And given the rise in foreign holdings of US Treasury securities, the impact now goes in both directions. So take a deep breath, because a change ‘gonna come.

** Sam Cooke’s classic, A Change Gonna Come (listen here), became an anthem of the US civil rights era, and adopted by agents of change around the world.

De-clutter Made Simple, Higher Mortgage Rates, & More!

Watch Out –Rates are backin’ up, backin’ up…

Interest rates have backed up markedly in the last month, as stronger economic data prompted investors to leave the relative ‘safety’ of bonds. This has raised concerns that the Federal Reserve will soon curtail its large scale purchases of securities as part of their efforts to keep rates low and support growth. Other investors have watched equity markets rally sharply this year in the US and overseas, and decided that at this juncture to move funds back into stocks.

As a result, yields on US government bonds AND mortgage rates have risen sharply in a month, with the national average on a 30 year fixed rate mortgage hovering near 4% (from under 3.5%), while 15 year mortgages hover near 3%.

With growth likely to remain subdued in the months ahead due to the ongoing drag resulting from government spending cuts, it is premature to call the end to this extended period of historic low rates. The latest employment report indicated that non-farm payrolls rose by a net 175,000 in May, with a slight downward revision to figures for the previous two months. This is what some pundits are calling the ‘sweet spot’ — growth that is strong enough to generate modest activity, but not enough to cause the Federal Reserve to withdraw its stimulus just yet. US stock market indices rallied in response to the news — with the the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending the week at 15,248, while the S&P 500 index closed at 1,643.

Just as the more stable US economic environment has helped ignite a stock market rally and led to questions regarding how much longer the Federal Reserve will maintain its extraordinary support measures, households and businesses should plan for higher borrowing costs in the future. Wall Street analysts are forecasting the yield on the 10 year Treasury note (currently 2.17%) will rise to 2.5% later this year, and 3% in 2014. If you’d like to take advantage of historic low rates to purchase/sell a home, or borrow for other reasons, consider this your wake up call.

More details in our Case by Kaess Commentaries.

Our Latest Segment: Feminomics Meets the Feng Shui Guy

Highlights from our Feminomics evening with the Feng Shui Guy, Ariel Joseph Towne, can be seen in the on our Feminomics You Tube Channel. CLICK HERE to WATCH.

(For more on Ariel, go to

Newsflash: 40% of US Households with Children Headed by Female ‘Breadwinners’ and Single Moms

You’ve come a long way baby.

A new study by Pew Research has found that 4 in 10 children are being raised in households where women act as the sole or primary provider. That’s up from 10.8% in 1960 and just over 20% in 1980.

They divide up into two distinct groups; married women with children, where mom serves as ‘breadwinner’, and single mothers. The households with a married mom serving as breadwinner earned about $80,000 well above the national median income of $57,100 for all families with children. Families with two parents at home earned a multiple of the $23,000 median income for families led by a single mother.

Researchers cite the entry of women into the workforce over the last 40 years, with women now making up nearly half the total workforce. The 2008 downturn may have also had an impact, with more mothers saying that ideally they would like to work full-time rose to 32% in 2012 from 20% in 2007. The share of those saying they prefer not to work at all fell to 20% from 29% in 2007.

It’s no surprise that working mothers still face an uphill battle at home and in society. While the study found that 79% of those surveyed do not want women to return to a ‘traditional’ role, double-standards are alive and well. Just over half said children are better off with mom at home, while only 8% felt that way if about having the father at home.

For a link to the study CLICK HERE.

UPDATE: Senate Hearings on Sexual Assaults in the Military

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearings this week on the epidemic of sexual assaults in the Military highlighted the disconnect between Pentagon brass and civilians. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri (pictured) warned the Generals who testified that ‘training’ is not enough to change a military justice system that tolerates a culture of widespread abuse and crimes of “assaultive domination and violence”. Senator McCaskill highlighted that current data gathered in the military do not differentiate between actions that threaten the workplace environment and felony crimes like rape.

In an op-ed this week, Kirby Dick, director of the film, “The Invisible War” – which examines this issue, noted, “the Pentagon is resisting this reform, just as it resisted reforms after the Tailhook episode in 1991, over sexual assaults at a gathering in Las Vegas; sexual assaults on female Army recruits at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in 1996; and a 2003 investigation of rapes and attempted rapes at the Air Force Academy, near Colorado Springs.”

We continue to follow this issue to support the bi-partisan efforts underway in Congress to enact meaningful change in the US Armed Forces. Let’s make this time different. For coverage of this week’s hearings, click HERE.

The Sandy Surprise

Having finally made it through the 2012 US elections, one wonders whether 2+ years of campaigning and billions of dollars spent were worth it.  President Obama won reelection to a second term, while the Democrats and Republicans maintained control of the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, albeit with smaller majorities.   Having said that, several trends did emerge, and as many have warned, markets have already started to pivot to the elephant in the room:  the fiscal cliff.    Here are our four take-aways:

  • Extreme ‘Anti’ Strategies Lost (immigrant, abortion, tax, etc.)  Candidates that adopted virulent ‘anti’ rhetoric were defeated.  Anti-abortion candidates Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana lost US Senate races after outrageous remarks; anti-immigration efforts hurt Republicans in swing states (Florida, Colorado, Nevada).   In addition, several Tea Party candidates defeated or pressured moderates to stand aside in primaries lost to moderates in the general elections (Maine, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, etc.).

  • Demographics Rule:  Latino voters crossed the 10% threshold in this election, and together with African-Americans, women, and younger voters,were key to President Obama’s win, as well as initiatives on same-sex marriage.  The Republican coalition of older, white, religious, and affluent voters comprised a shrinking proportion of voters and will need to expand to remain viable.  Pundits believe this bodes well for immigration reform.

  • The ‘Sandy’ Surprise:  Hurricane Sandy stopped Mitt Romney’s late surge and helped President Obama.  Exit polls sited by one network said that 4 in 10 voters said the hurricane had a modest or significant impact on their final choice.  Cooperation and effective management of the storm crisis by President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie won widespread support, with support from New York Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, who noted that climate change issues were one factor that tipped him into supporting the President for reelection.

  • Leadership Trumps Partisanship.   Drawing on earlier points, politicians who demonstrated leadership and got things done were seen as a welcome change to the hyper-partisan gridlock.  House Speaker Boehner got the memo, saying the elections were a mandate for the two parties ‘to take steps together’ to boost the economy.   President Obama talked about ‘compromises to move the country forward’.   Others however have not, and has businesses nervous.

Concerns about the ‘carnival life’ in Washington (as well as trouble in Europe) pushed US stock markets sharply lower today (down 2.3-2.5%); their worst session since June.    As we move to year-end investors and money managers will be tempted to lock in profits (and bonuses) and reduce exposure to markets, as we head to the holidays, which could put pressure on stock markets.  This may be exacerbated by investors locking in profits at lower capital gains rates in case those rise in the future.

And with little change in net seats for either party in Congress, the pressure is on for legislators to work immediately toward a ‘grand bargain’, or at least a temporary moratorium on pending spending cuts and tax increases to give the new Congress time to work on a broad-based reform.  This package will need to include a combination of spending limits and revenue increases to reduce the fiscal gap and longer term fixes to reduce the national debt.  It will involve changes to Social Security (a higher retirement age perhaps), cost controls for defense, Medicare and Medicaid (health care costs remain the crux of the problem), and reduction of tax cuts, corporate incentives and other special incentives.  These four areas comprise, together with interest on our existing debt, over 80% of government spending.  Like banks, it’s ‘where the money is’.

Just as Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that environmental ‘events’ carry serious ‘tail’ risk for government, business, and households (low odds, but devastating impact), the fiscal cliff poses serious risks for the US and global economy.  Typically economists talk about hurricanes as a one-off temporary hit to growth (of 0.45%), followed by a bump up when rebuilding efforts get underway. Moody’s Analytics estimates $50 billion in losses from Sandy (versus $80-90 billion from Hurricane Katrina).   Regardless of your views on climate change, businesses will need to think about how to reduce risk from these ‘100 year floods that seem to be happening every two years’.

The good news is that the private sector continues to improve.  Consumers have reduced spending and cut debt to help get their households in order, while the rebound in housing activity has helped reduce roadblocks to growth as sales and construction increase, supply shrinks, and prices rebound.  The Census Bureau announced that the US added 1.15 million households in the 12 months that ended in September, up from 650,000 average of the previous four years.   However until we see constructive action by the public sector, the economy will remain stuck in low gear.

Lisa Kaess

Cathy P. writes…

Cathy P.

” Lisa has proven to be invaluable in helping me understand
the finances of my marriage.”

I discovered Lisa Kaess through her Feminomics videos on the internet when I was in the beginning stages of a difficult and complex divorce process.

Lisa has proven to be invaluable in helping me understand the finances of my marriage, and provided information and support necessary to negotiate from a position of strength.

Once my divorce is final, I look forward to working with Lisa on a plan for my future that helps me meet my personal and financial goals as I embark on this new stage of my life.

Cathy P.

Understanding Inflation: Everything in Moderation

Previously I wrote about growth and how the current downturn fits into historic context. This month we’ll discuss inflation, the other key anchor of economic policy.

Inflation is defined as a process of rising prices for goods and services. The inflation rate measures this change using a basket of essentials like housing, transport, energy, and food.

Equally important here is the underlying value of a good or service. If inflation increases, the value – or purchasing power – of your money will decline. Penny candy costs more than a penny today, and the price of basic groceries is higher than 20 years ago. As prices rise, we need to earn more to stay in place and maintain the purchasing power of our money.

This is also true for investments. Ideally, we want to not only get our money back, but also earn more to maintain its value and future purchasing power – so we can buy groceries after retirement.

Because price movements are dynamic, there are a range of terms that describe various
conditions. Inflation, involves a general increase in prices. Disinflation describes the deceleration of the rate of inflation. Prices are still rising, but more slowly than before (like hitting the brakes when you see a police car on the highway). Some pundits warn of the risk of reflation – an acceleration of the inflation rate (think stepping on the gas). That’s not am concern for 2009 while we’re in recession. Inflation, measured by the consumer price index (CPI), rose 0.7% in June, largely due to higher energy prices, but declined 1.4% over the previous 12 months.

And then there are the extremes, which can wreak social and financial havoc. Deflation is a sustained decline in overall prices, last seen during the Depression. The recent drop in gasoline is welcome, but deflation can destroy wealth. In hyperinflation, prices rise so fast a currency becomes worthless. In 1923 Germany had postage stamp valued at 23 billion Marks; Zimbabwe’s inflation was estimated at 10 21 percent in late 2008.

Economists and policy makers strive toward a modest increase in inflation (roughly 2%
annually), believing it helps keep an economy growing steadily for longer. It’s like driving at the 25 mph speed limit on River Road – fast enough to get ahead, but slow enough so we can stay out of trouble and respond to the unexpected.