Sometime in the not-so-distant future we could imagine a history teacher or standardized test writer composing a question tying the Obama presidency to cultural references: How would you compare the early days of Barack Obama’s first term to each of the following figures:

Jesus Christ. Our quick answer would be that Obama enters office with plenty of crosses to bear, and expectations so high that he had better be able to walk on water. And, you could argue, the cross borne by Jesus was intended to atone for our sins, and Obama’s cross today includes making up for some of our sins — unrealistic mortgages and the greed of the financiers who sold them.

Atlas. The new president does indeed have the weight of the world upon his shoulders. From the Middle East to the midwest, ordinary people are looking to Barack to solve their problems.

Hercules. Fixing the economy, dodging inflation, reducing our reliance on Middle East oil, preserving both our cities and open space — all these certainly seem to qualify as herculean tasks.

When we began producing this issue, we first considered an image of a figure bearing a cross up a hill. After considering the potential wrath of readers upset with the comparison of Barack to Jesus Christ (though at this point it’s hard to imagine anyone minding the comparison), we then turned our attention to Atlas and settled on a final design.

In the meantime we will hold onto that photo of the cross. When the political honeymoon is over and when President Obama is being blamed for everything, then that photo might be a more appropriate piece of political imagery. Can’t happen, you say? Well that’s what most people were saying about Obama’s presidential dreams less than two years ago.

To the Editor:

Quick Thinking For Leaders of Tomorrow

Every day I see professional people dumbstruck when presented with an unexpected question, challenge, or comment. A typical nervous response is “Ah,” “Um,” or “Hmm,” followed by “I don’t know.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had the opportunity to learn how to think on their feet? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could bring these skills to our leaders of tomorrow?

They say hindsight is 20-20. We all wish we knew back then what we know today. So how do adults help prepare today’s youth with that same lesson? You teach them Table Topics, or quick thinking communication skills.

Recently our Toastmasters club did just that. Bull Masters of Hopewell conducted a communications workshop for 50 students from two area high schools during a Career Academy Program, which gives students the opportunity to learn a variety of business skills (communications, goal planning, team projects, interviewing skills, etc).

Bull Masters added another skill to the curriculum — the ability to think and speak on your feet, a life skill we all need. The day-long workshop, called “Who’s Got Skills 101,” was designed to teach students the skill of responding to a question as if in a classroom, interview, or even in front of a large audience.

A team of 11 experienced Toastmaster volunteers from Merrill Lynch led the students in a fast paced, interactive session. The students were divided into 10 teams with a Toastmaster for each team directing them.

The first scenario was a warm-up that allowed the students to answer an easy table topic question from their chair. This scenario allowed the students to get to know one another and to feel comfortable. The toastmaster provided positive feedback on their response. In this program, there is no such thing as negative feedback.

The second scenario required the student to stand up in front of the table and answer a new question. This scenario challenged the student to feel as if they were standing in front of an audience. Also, in this scenario, the students at the table were encouraged to listen and provide positive feedback to the student speaker.

In the third scenario, we introduced role reversal. The students had the opportunity to ask the Toastmaster an off-the-cuff question and evaluate their response. The Toastmaster demonstrated how anyone can respond to a question in a confident and articulate manner. It was nice to see the feedback the students provided during this scenario. A little encouragement goes a long way.

The students were encouraged to practice eye contact, proper posture, vocal variety, and facial expression as well as other speaking skills. Each student was provided with positive feedback throughout the program. Several teachers from both high schools participated in these activities.

In today’s competitive world, preparing our students for success requires developing life skills at an early age. Parents should take advantage of all opportunities available, whether it’s a program available through their school or with a nearby Toastmaster’s club.

Jerry Stone,Gil Stamler,

Barbara MacNeill,

Toastmasters Club of Hopewell

Small business


As jobs are being trimmed at large corporations more Americans than ever have taken the plunge and are starting their own businesses. Most who own a business can tell you that being the boss entails a big “to-do” list and making sure the business and its key players are properly insured can easily be forgotten.

Business insurance is not a matter to be taken lightly. Nothing would be more disruptive to the potential success of an enterprise than to lose a primary contributor due to an unexpected death, extended illness, or disability. Fortunately, there are steps that business owners can take to make sure protection is in place if such an event should occur.

Protecting key employees. The viability of a business can be placed in serious jeopardy if a key person is lost permanently or for an extended period of time. Forward-thinking business owners should implement key-person protection to help defray costs associated with losing or replacing that individual.

Ideally, a business purchases a policy on each key employee and is named as the owner and beneficiary of the policy. Keep in mind that the primary purpose for such a policy is not to benefit the employee whose life is covered but to protect the company.

Business continuation. In circumstances in which multiple individuals own a company it is crucial to have a buy-sell agreement in place, typically funded with life insurance. Such a policy outlines specific triggering events, such as death, long-term disability, or retirement.

This gives surviving owners a way to purchase the interests of the owner who died, became disabled, or retired. The goal is to make it financially feasible for remaining owners to pay for the buyout while providing a fair settlement for the interest being sold. Such an agreement is based on a current valuation of the company, so it is important that any buy-sell agreement be regularly updated.

Executive benefits. Additional benefits for owners and other key employees are available as well. Specifically, companies have the option of providing life and disability insurance for executives that goes beyond what is made available to all employees. This includes funding personal life insurance for individuals. In this instance, the employee is the owner of the policy and can name his or her own beneficiaries. This kind of additional benefit for a key contributor can help a company retain top talent.

Another option in creating such a benefit is to use a “split dollar” approach. In this case, the company pays the premiums, but has an agreement with the covered employee to repay the premium to the company with interest. Those payments are made from life insurance proceeds if the employee dies, or from the cash value if the individual’s term with the company ends. The remaining proceeds go to the named beneficiaries such as family members.

Preserving wealth. If all goes well, a business can turn out to be the most valuable family asset. That is why business owners need to pay careful attention to issues surrounding the disposition of a company after they die. While a buy-sell agreement is a critical part of any separation strategy from a company, individual owners also need to consider how best to preserve their estate. Legal documents such as wills and trusts can take on added complexity. If the business has attained significant value, you may want to consider using life insurance to help protect the value of assets being passed on to heirs from estate tax liability.

One of the key advantages that life insurance offers is that it can be used on a selective basis to help protect the business and individual owners to enhance the overall compensation package of key employees. If you own or plan to start a business, consider adding a life insurance review to your to-do list.

Gary Johnston

Ameriprise Financial,

101 College Road East

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