What Does a Great America Do With Syria?

I’m horrified by the chemical weapons attack in Syria. Anyone with a pulse and a heartbeat should be.

But what does it mean for Americans?

We are currently under an “America First” leadership policy. President Trump would say that “the people” have given him a clear initiative “Make America Great Again.” I wonder what a Great America does in the face of this current catastrophe?

I hope that you will all grant me a few assumptions:

  1. The United States of America is a world leader.
  2. The United States has tremendous power over other countries by virtue of where we spend our money and energy. (Energy includes military force, but also political humanitarian efforts.)

Knowing what a Great America should do is a very big, complicated question that I don’t have the expertise to answer. But it shouldn’t stop me from thinking about it in terms that DO make sense.

Let’s take it to the playground.

On any given playground there are groups/cliques/circles – call it what you will. Some are stronger than others, have more sway on the basketball court, deciding who gets to play and on what team. One group may rule the jumprope rotation, deciding who gets to be the jumpers and who holds the rope.  Ask any kid and they’ll tell you, the rules of the playground are COMPLICATED. Nothing is never as it seems from the outside perspective, there are slight moves being made at every moment that dictate how recess will progress. Some days it ends in fights, other days it’s quiet.

One day your kid comes home with a black eye and a confusing story about how he got it. Something about a basketball, an agreement between 3 other kids, and a jumprope competition. You go to the leaders of the “free time” – the teachers, playground volunteers, and the administration looking for help.

The leaders have choices:

  1. Do nothing. Kids will be kids.
  2. Bring the class into a special session on bullying. Create new policies.
  3. Launch an incident investigation, whittle down the list of probable suspects, and enact a punishment.

Choice 1: Do Nothing

Your kid spends most every recess “volunteering” in the classroom, his academics begin to suffer, and it’s clear he’s unhappy. Unfortunately for you, you are in a one public school town, no money for private school, and no time to homeschool. You wait it out, hoping that things work themselves out. They don’t, they only get worse.

Choice 2: Special Session on Bullying, Create New Policies

Things improve slightly. You learn new ways to talk to your kid about how to handle a bully, and what to do if someone is getting bullied. The incident is out in the open, everyone is watching for signs of bad behavior. The instigators are quieted for a bit. There will be another incident, but now a policy is in place. New bullying sessions are convened, and the repeat offenders start to show themselves and are able to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Choice 3: Probable Suspects Punished

Things may improve, or they may get MUCH worse. The bullying starts to occur in the shadow moments, off to the side, or off the playground completely. The tactics change from less visible black eyes to the shattering of all self-esteem. The bullying becomes less obvious to the leaders, but more sophisticated and treacherous to their victims.

What does this have to do with Syria?

We’ve already assumed we, the Great America, are a world leader. We have the ability to effect change on not one child getting bullied, but on hundreds and thousands of children who are suffering at the hands of dictator bullies, regime bullies, and rebel bullies.

We can do nothing and let the suffering go on for years, decades, and for many, their entire lives.

We can attempt to effect change by bringing everyone to the table. Look for solutions from a world perspective, creating policies and pacts that reduce the power of those who would do harm, and bolster those that would do better.

We can enact swift punishment, using missiles and ground troops. Altering the fight, forcing some into the shadows, and potentially alter the fight in some new, equally disturbing direction.

As a parent of a child, what would you want from your school leadership?

As a parent of a child in Syria, what would you want from your world leadership?

As a parent of this Great America, I want my leadership to work with all the leaders of the free world and look for solutions to the complicated problem that is Syria, maintaining in interest in the better for everyone, not just in the “better for us”.

I know it’s a silly analogy – a playground and a civil war zone – but it works for me on some level. It helps me evaluate my leadership’s response to this crisis. Despite what “caused” this catastrophe – a statement from the White House last week, or a decision from the U.N. Security Council four years ago – this is happening. And as a parent and an American, it would sadden me if we do nothing.

A Great America would do something, together with other world leaders, with great thought and deliberation. A Great America would lead efforts to protect the innocent. A Great America would choose it’s allies carefully, ensuring the good of the children and the good of the world remain our first priority, even if it means a little less time at recess for us.

What do you think the United States should do? Is there a better analogy to help me understand how to evaluate this situation and my leaders? 

**A little side-note here: There are a lot of articles written on the topic of Syria, most of which require, at minimum, a college degree to understand; the majority requiring at least a degree in politics. There is not a lot written for the vast number of people who have neither. I’m a firm believer in doing the right thing, and in this situation it means engaging everyone in the conversation. Most adult Americans are parents, and maybe one parent to another we can have a dialogue about what the right thing to do might be without calling each other out as donkeys or elephants.



For reference, here’s just a few articles that informed me. Regardless of my political leanings, I do my best to source from several opposing outlets.

Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria – New York Times

Timeline of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria – Fox News

White House Response to Syrian Attacks – Fox News

Gas Attack in Syria – CNN

Syrian Gas Attack Reportedly Kills Dozens – NBC News

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Now We Know That Actions Speak Louder Than Words

volunteer_handsI, like many Democrats, am feeling disheartened by the events of last night’s election. I had so much hope that today we would be celebrating the first female president, but instead I’m in mourning. In mourning for our country that is more deeply divided than I ever realized.

But I take responsibility for my part in the events. I thought I did “my part” by discussing politics in a non-confrontational way across my social media channels. I thought I did “my part” by giving donations to the Democratic party, who I truly believed would not only protect things I hold dear, but be in the best interest of so many that lack the abundant privileges I enjoy – good education, a secure roof over my head,  a job. I thought I did “my part” by voting.

I realize this morning that I was sorely misguided on how large my part needed to be to assure the majority of Americans that I deeply love and care for the well being of all of us, not just my privileged life.

My part should have included educating myself more on the way “the other half lives”. I should have been more active in LOCAL politics that would have created more – REAL – change in the lives that are suffering. I should have been been more active in volunteering in the fringe communities that feel left out, left to suffer, and left fending for themselves in this complicated world of reforms, tax codes, and laws, making the best decisions they can while trying to keep food on their table despite political conversations that float well above their educational level.

I should have spoken less, and acted more. 

The Americans that voted for Trump didn’t see my face in their community. They didn’t experience my care and concern for others at their local rallies trying to protect their jobs . They didn’t see a change in their paycheck when I didn’t vote for local measures that would have protected their jobs or increased their pay. They didn’t hear my voice on social media because they don’t know me, or I them.

So, today, I ask myself, “What does it mean to play ‘my part’?”

I have the choice to spend the next four years writing opinions on a blog (that no one really needs anyway), sharing ideas and throwing support through “likes” on social media, and continue to debate politics in my privileged, admittedly homogenous, circle of friends. Or I can shift my definition from words to action.

We all have this choice today.

If you are one of the millions of Americans that feel like I do – disheartened, fearful, and like we lost something really important last night – I hope you ask yourself the same question. What does it mean to “play your part” in healing this nation that is so very, very broken? How do we SHOW our commitment to the words we speak and the votes we cast?

 

 

Why Trump Supporters Got It Right

A Republican GOP senator or congress man with symbolic tie

I’ve been watching Trump’s rise to power in the Republican party, and witnessed the growing support from the “average” Republican while GOP leaders have frantically searched for a way out of the mess they find themselves in.

I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t initially stunned by his popularity – but I would be a fool to say that upon further reflection, I don’t understand.

As the primaries reach a boiling point, I watch as “NeverTrump” supporters fling cold insults of superiority, citing Trump supporters lack of education, sophistication, and common sense. I’d point out that these “superior” opines lack compassion and a sense of responsibility.

What the people of “NeverTrump” have forgotten is that a large number of people – and some may say, the majority – are operating from a place of instability, a feeling of being unsafe in their ability to live beyond the next paycheck. They lack the opportunities of quality education, safe neighborhoods, and reliable social networks with enough esteem to provide a buffer against joblessness and losing their homes.

They are asking Trump’s loyal followers to reason beyond their day-to-day existence and consider the larger political and world economic picture. They are being asked to, once again, put aside their real needs, and vote for the greater good.

Trump’s Advantage Over the GOP

For many years, the Republican party has run on a thin platform of “Family Values”, with trickle down economics thrown in. They’ve heralded their “Pro-Life” policies and defended the “Right to Bear Arms”. They’ve galvanized the majority of supporters around these “threats” while subsequently working against the Affordable Care Act and Medicare coverage increases, and advocating for reduced spending on social welfare programs.

I work in marketing, and we spend a lot of time researching target markets and identifying core needs. While not being able to have a gun to protect themselves from their married gay neighbors driving women to get abortions may seem like valid needs, I would argue that these issues really don’t address the true core needs of the “average” Republican.

As I see it, “average” voters want:

  • Secure jobs
  • Access to healthcare that won’t bankrupt them
  • A chance to get a leg up in a system that seems insistent on keeping them down by keeping money out of their pockets and elite networks of influence out of reach.

The fact that the Republican party has been resting primarily on moral laurels with the vast majority of their constituents, I’m frankly astounded that they are surprised by Trump’s rise in popularity.

FOUR out of Trump’s seven platforms speak to getting Americans back to work.

His plan is simple:

  • Keep immigrants OUT and away from American jobs
  • Negotiate better with China to keep American factories from moving offshore
  • Simplify the tax code to keep businesses healthy enough to hire American employees

TWO of of the remaining three platform address access to health care.

Trump advocates for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which in his view has resulted in:

  • Runaway costs
  • Dysfunctional websites (access)
  • A barrier to access via rationing
  • Higher premiums
  • Fewer medical choices

This is nothing new to the Republican party, but it’s a platform he maintains for all the right strategic reasons.

He is also taking on the Veteran’s Administration and their ability to care for wounded warriors. A noble cause for anyone to advocate for, Republican or Democrat.

His last platform is guns. American’s love their guns and fear they will be taken away.

From a marketing standpoint, Trump ran a better campaign than the dozen+ contenders that started out in this race. He identified the “average” Republican’s points of of pain, and hit HARD on SIMPLE messaging that helped people believe he’s the one to “Make America Great Again”.

The GOP elite are scratching their heads wondering how this could have happened? Really?

They were hoping their constituents could see past Trump’s rhetoric, but never stopped to consider that these same constituents bought into the old platform and never questioned many of the party’s policies despite being at fundamental odds with their own self-interest?

In this primary election, the Trump supporters finally got something right:

They stopped focusing on morality issues that affect their after-life, and started looking for the nominee to make their real lives better. And still keep their guns.

No amount of rational debate about the efficacy of Trump’s plans will be heard by his supporters because he represents a Republican nominee that “understands” the plight of the average American and wants to fight for them. They’ve been swept aside by the GOP and placated with moral stances for too. Having someone truly in their corner is enough and now Donald Trump has garnered raving fans ready to buy, despite a one day return policy in four years. 

If there can be a silver lining that can emerge from Trump’s rise in popularity, I can only hope that the Republican party wakes up and recognizes that moral superiority is no longer a reasonable platform – and they start working on developing policies for their majority who have now spoken.

#NeverTrump

For the record, I’m a Democrat. But I believe that we are only as strong as our weakest link. We have been a two-party system, and it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. If one half of our political system looks like Trump, we are all in trouble. His brand of politics is fueled by hate and ignorance – and it’s frightening.  I can only hope that this year’s election makes the Republican party rethink their platform and try to right their ship so that Trump can never happen again.

She Was Someone’s Somebody, Even Though She Was Drunk

I sat down in the aisle seat, anticipating that my youngest would need to be whisked out at a moment’s notice for creating a scene that only a 3-yr-old knows how to make. Regardless of the fact that this was a grade school performance of The Jungle Book, parents would not appreciate their child’s 0.2 seconds of fame being diminished by a snot-nosed, belligerent little man who smelled suspiciously like a men’s room urinal and in desperate need of a haircut.

That’s when I met her.2717399328_a772fd34fa

Saying that I met her is actually stretching the truth. She stumbled to edge of the row where I was sitting and slurred “MOVE DOWN” – indicating the open seats beyond me.

I smiled apologetically and explained that the seats were saved. Not by me, of course, but by the owner of the white sweater, green scarf, and Trader Joe’s bag that were strewn across the top. The theater equivalent of the American Flag on the moon.

I’m not entirely sure she understood my rambling explanation, but she moved along and I breathed a sigh of relief – and a clean breath of fresh air. I could taste the alcohol that had wafted from her lips.

Instinctively I thought, “What kind of person comes to a children’s theater completely plastered in short shorts and a cropped sweatshirt bedazzled with Hello Kitty?”

My compassionate side countered, “Someone’s mother, or aunt, or grandma.”

I imagined the child that sat backstage who hoped not for her family to come, but for her family NOT to come. Or who worried that his mother might stand up in the middle of the performance and shriek, “That’s my boy!”

The woman I met was someone’s somebody – and she showed up. She was drunk, disheveled, and wildly inappropriate – but she showed up.

In that moment I stopped thinking about what a horrible person she might have been, and started thinking about how wonderful that child was that this woman was trying to show up for, despite all the obstacles of the obvious addictions and hardships she faced.

If I knew the child that belonged to the heart of that woman,  I would simply like to tell them that this was not an embarrassment, this was an act of love.

150 Years And Still Enslaving

I’m sitting here at my desk, half-watching 12 Years A Slave in the background, finding myself having a physical reaction to the sheer horror in this movie. I can’t even look directly at the screen during the worst scenes.JOHN77_edited-1

I know this is the intent of the movie, and they have done a spectacular job.

What I can’t wrap my head around is that while we share a collective horror about past mistreatment of slaves, even the current racism today, we continue to judge others with the same vicious tenacity that we cringe from during the movie.

The sickness in my stomach that I feel now is the same sickness I feel when I hear people trash homosexuals, taunt the mentally ill, and call poor people a product of their own choices. We have not changed all that much in 150 years, we’ve just changed the targets – and the tactics.

What happens when we deny federal rights to people that love the same sex? We enslave them to a lifetime of second-class citizens. They can be refused visitation of a dying loved one, denied social security benefits of a partner they spent decades making a home with, and openly discriminated against in adoptions, service, and much more. It makes me ill.

What happens when we deny services to the mentally ill, and the families trying to help them, simply because they don’t have the right medical insurance card in their pocket or the funds to pay for services out-of-pocket? We enslave them to a life of illness. We watch families get torn apart, homeless veterans walk the streets, and substance abuse eat away at the ones that try to self medicate. It makes me ill.

What happens when we blame the poor for their financial situation, reducing the funding to programs intended to help them improve? We watch generations of children grow up to believe the only way to make money is through illegal operations, imprisoning them when they are caught, and enslaving the next generation to a life without a parent and starting the cycle over again. It makes me ill.

Life is complicated, but one thing that is very simple is that we are all a product of it.

I was born with a silver spoon. Two parents, enough food, good education, white, and straight. But being born privileged does not make me better; in fact it may make me worse. It separates me from the very human condition of being born none of these things. I take my status for granted – often.

As I listen to the whippings, cursing, and crying on the screen behind me, I’m not just experiencing the horror of the past, I am also realizing the horrors of the present. I still live in a world of discrimination and prejudice. I still live in a time of second-class citizens. And it makes me ill.

Heroin is no different than sugar. They both kill.

Philip Seymour Hoffman died yesterday, apparently alone in his bathroom with a needle in his arm.  I grieve for him, his family, and his close friends that must now face a reality that has been dulled by his absence.

His death, like many other Hollywood and music superstars before him, begins a new discussion about drug addiction and the struggle to get clean. Inevitably, there will be a large portion of the population that will view his drug use as a choice and his death, therefore, a decision. It’s often not said that succinctly, but if we tease out the underlying sentiment, I think I’ve nailed it down pretty well.

sugargreenLet me be clear on one thing before we begin: I am NOT, nor have I ever been, addicted to drugs or alcohol. I am NOT married to, been in a relationship with, or lost anyone I love dearly to the disease of addiction. I DO care a great deal about humanity and I mourn the loss of anyone to disease of any kind. I DO think it’s important to recognize addiction for what it is.

I don’t believe Phillip Seymour Hoffman had any choice in his addiction nor his death. The only way I can help you understand how I feel is to explain this in terms of sugar. Before you put me on blast for comparing a drug to a food, consider this statement from a report by NPR, “recent studies have shown that sugar can produce changes in the brain and behavior that resemble addiction.

Just like heroin, not everyone who tries sugar will become addicted and those that do become addicted to sugar will most likely not be able to stop without intervention.

Have you ever had an obese friend, family member, or acquaintance that expressed how much they would love to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle? Have you also watched that same person continuously make horrible food decisions day in and day out?  They may succeed in losing weight for periods of time on any number of fad diets, but sadly return to obesity every time.

Each doughnut, chocolate bar, or big mac they consume inches them closer to death.  From the Surgeon General’s Office: There are around 300,000 obesity related deaths each year, with risks rising as weight increases.  These friends and loved ones know the risk, if not the actual statistics, but they do it anyway.

We humans love to judge others and their decisions. For those of us not addicted to sugar, it’s utterly confusing why anyone would choose to do something that destroyed their quality of life and put them at risk of early death. Those not faced with addiction will look at each and every meal as a choice. But that is precisely the point at which addicts are separated from non-addicts.

We make choices every day by using our brains to evaluate the risk/reward, cost-to-benefit-ratio, chance of success or failure, etc. Based on our experiences in the world, we have each finely tuned our brain to assign value to all things in life – people, places, activities, and so on.  Imagine for a minute if that powerful choice machine, your brain, decided to change the value of certain things without your input. No amount of pleading, thinking, or praying will sway the brain in its decision. It has decided to do a big chemical backfire, and there is nothing you can do about it.

That is how I see addiction. I’m not a scientist, doctor, or anyone with any letters after my name, but I am someone that believes addicts do not have a choice.

It’s easy to look at a heroin, alcohol, or even sugar addict and think it is a choice. Was it a choice the first time someone tried heroin? Absolutely. But that choice was based on their experience with the world and the value their brain put on the experience of trying heroin; the risk versus reward. The choice to try heroin was the product of experience, the addiction to heroin was the product of the drug itself.

The choice to eat sugar is not as complicated since most of us get introduced to it within a few moments of birth, but addiction to sugar is a product of the food (drug) itself. When we begin to learn more about the power of sugar as an addictive substance, I hope we also gain a better understanding of the disease of addiction itself. Sugar is something that affects all of us and harder to ignore and marginalize.

If you enjoyed this, please share. It’s love and understanding that will move us forward.

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If you are looking for treatment for you or a loved one, please call or email one of the resources below. It’s not a choice, it’s a disease that needs treatment.

SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association

1-800-662-HELP (4357)
1-800-487-4889 (TDD)

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous

The Day I Risked My Daughter’s Life To Save Others

Just thinking about that day makes my stomach turn and my hands go sweaty.

It was an otherwise normal day. The morning was a blur of frenzy as I tried to get ready for work while entertaining a 1-year-old in a plastic, jumpy play thingy. I’ve never liked mornings, and this one was no exception. Two cups of coffee and I knew things would look better.

Baby Hands

Image Credit: Sias van Schalkwyk http://www.seepsteen.co.za

As I buckled my daughter into her car seat, a small thought began to nag at me. Voices of friends, family, and internet strangers started to swirl in my head as I made the 10 minute drive to the building that held my daughter’s fate. By the time we checked in I was frantic, although you would have never known from the outside.  When our name was called, I scooped her up and took her into the room that would make her cry and wail. I knew my heart would break.

When it was over, I watched her carefully. She seemed the same. Over the next few months, I looked for signs of sickness. In the end, we came out the other side unscathed.

That was six years ago, less than a year after Jenny McCarthy became a vocal anti-vaccine spokesperson.

While the rational side of me KNEW that the MMR vaccine did not cause autism, I couldn’t help but be bombarded by her face telling me that I was wrong. The rational side of me did the research to the best of my non-scientific ability and I had concluded that vaccinating my children  was the right decision, but the loud roar of the anti-vaccination movement could not be avoided.

The day that I took my first born to get her MMR vaccination, I was scared. Six years later, I am mad.

I shouldn’t have been scared by a beautiful, eloquent spokesperson that refuted science and held up her beautiful son as evidence. Her son that, according to her, became autistic after receiving vaccines. The son that, according to her, recovered from autism through chelation therapy. The son with autism that, according to her, caused her divorce.  I know all of this because she was EVERYWHERE – on the news, on talk shows, online. I couldn’t escape from her if I tried.

Six years later, a report surfaced that McCarthy admitted her son was misdiagnosed with autism and suffered instead from  Landau–Kleffner syndrome, a common misdiagnosis. A week later she slammed that report refuting it’s truth, and all links to the original reports have been disabled (good job, lawyers). Regardless, it’s too late for me. Personally, I don’t believe her son had autism and was cured by an obscure therapy any more than I believe her claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

I do, however, blame her for my fear of vaccines. I also blame the media that gave her airtime.

A few weeks after my son was born in 2010, a newborn died of whooping cough at my hospital during a horrific outbreak in our state. The outbreaks were concentrated in areas that had low vaccination rates. Once again, I was scared. Not of Jenny McCarthy’s dire warnings, but of the thousands of children that were not vaccinated because their parents were afraid; a fear that may have been triggered by Jenny McCarthy.

This fear continues to be propagated by the anti-vaccination community that will sell you thousands of dollars in supplements and call the government and Big Pharma evil money-mongers despite contributing $32 billion of revenue to the US economy in 2012 alone.

That day, six years ago, I was told that I was risking my daughter’s life by vaccinating her but I chose to do it anyway because the evidence told me that these vaccines were more likely to save other children than hurt my own.

Please share this so other parents know that they are not alone in their fear. I applaud the families that vaccinate and thank them from the bottom of my heart for saving the lives of others with their decision.

If you are concerned about vaccinating your children, here are just a few excellent resources to consider. 

**A Population-Based Study of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccinations & Autism** please read this if nothing else

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – Vaccine Education Center

The History of Vaccines

HealthyChildren.org

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