Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 2)

Human Trafficking: A Growing Worldwide Catastrophe

Last week I did not write because I traveled to New England. I saw family, toured the Boston Common, and took day trips to Cape Cod. Everyone needs a vacation to clear their minds and refresh their spirits, but I am happy to be back again writing on this blog.

In my novel True Mercy I write about human trafficking. In reality, this criminal activity is occurring all over the world, in First World countries and Third World countries, in wealthy, middle-class, and lower-class communities, and in all cultures and races. One only has to pay attention to the news.

Rockaway is a family-friendly, suburban town in Morris County, New Jersey. It has been reported in the local media that Adolphus Mims of nearby Morris Plains, leader of a human trafficking scheme, forced two Rockaway teenagers to engage in sexual relations for money over a four-day period at the now defunct Rockaway Hotel. Morris Plains, by the way, is another family-friendly, suburban town. Fortunately, the girls were rescued and Mims and his partner, a woman named Debbie Kooken, were arrested.

On the international front, 20 year-old British model Chloe Ayling was kidnapped and held hostage for six days when she arrived for a photo shoot in Milan, Italy. Her “photo shoot” actually turned out to be an abandoned building where she was drugged and transported to an isolated farmhouse. Her four captors intended to sell her as a sex slave on an online auction. Fortunately, Italian police rescued Ayling and arrested her captors.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the documentary I Am Jane Doe, which dealt with men manipulating teenage girls into advertising for sex on the online site Backpage.com, which is the second largest buying and selling of products and services website (Craigslist.com is the largest). They control 80% of the market for sex ads. Many of their ads feature under aged teenage girls in provocative poses under the guise of “escort services.” Many court cases have been brought up against Backpage.com, but all have been dismissed thus far. Congress has recently decided to challenge their right to advertise young girls.

When will this madness stop? As the saying goes, “If you stand around and do nothing, you are part of the problem.” Get involved to stop human trafficking by contacting one or more of these organizations. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it is a great place to start.

Human Trafficking Organizations:

1. Zonta International – www.zonta.org

2. Stop the Traffik –  www.stopthetraffik.org

3. Hope for Justice – www.hopeforjustice.org

4. Durga Tree International – www.durgatreeinternational.org

5. Polaris – www.polarisproject.org

You can make a difference!

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

–Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Yerushalmi Talmud 4:9, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.

Interview with a Poet Friend

For this week’s blog, I interviewed my friend and fellow writer Sue Rutan Donald. Sue is a contributor to the Mighty.com, writes poems for friends and family, and has her own blog, Some of Sue’s Thoughts.

First is a sampling of Sue’s poems and my interview follows.

SUNNY SIDE
Even in the rain and gloom,

I love how still the flowers bloom,

They stored up sun from other days,

To continue sharing in their own way,

The hummingbirds still flit and sip

The nectar there as around they flit,

Let us then be flower-like,

Presenting, still, our sunny side.

 

HEART OF SUMMER

Here in the heart of the summer,

Some of us think it’s a bummer,

We have frizzy hair,

Due to air you can wear,

Less humidity sure would be funner!

 

BE BRAVE

The sun comes up,

The moon retreats,

Time for stars to go to sleep,

Our eyes open,

Alarm clocks ding,

In the shower,

Some folks sing,

Hot brew’s ready,

Juice is cold,

Off we go now–

Be brave! Be bold!

 

WELCOME SUMMER

Welcome Summer,

 You are hot!

Some of us like that a lot,

Some prefer dear Autumn’s ways,

With cooler air and shorter days,

But Summer now that you are here,

You’ll go too fast is what I fear,

I love your sunny, longer days,

And in the twilight how fireflies play,

I will enjoy the parts I like,

But Humidity can take a hike!

 

FRIDAY RAIN

Friday morning rain

Makes things a little hard

Drivers do not like it

But it is good for the yard.

 

1.) Q: Sue, when did you start getting interested in writing?

 A: For as long as I can remember I have written little rhymes and kept a journal.  I always loved writing stories in elementary school and used to submit poems to the school newsletter.  I began writing stories for myself in high school.

2.) Q: What inspires you to write your poems?

 A: The poems that I post on Facebook are inspired by my desire to find common ground with everyone.  There is so much negativity and things that divide us, especially lately, and I wanted to add something positive that is relevant to daily life. Many of my poems celebrate the mundane, such as looking forward to coffee in the morning, feeling unready for the workweek on Monday, and complaining or expressing pleasure with the weather.  The poems that I keep for myself are more emotional in nature and are inspired by what is happening in my life; both the good and the bad.

3.) Q: Which poets have influenced your own poetry?

 A: I’d have to say that Robert Frost influenced my poetry and also Dr. Seuss! Robert Frost seems to be the poet for the common man and woman, and I love the sing-song rhyming and made up words that you find in Dr. Seuss books.  Both of them get their point across in a pleasurable manner.   

4.) Q: What time of the day do you usually write?

 A: I don’t really have a set time of day that I write, it’s usually just whenever the opportunity presents itself in between work, my family, and household responsibilities. The little Facebook rhymes are usually written in the morning and many of my blog posts are written early Sunday morning on my old iPod touch, believe it or not.  Other writing, such as an article for The Mighty or some writing exercises are typically done in the afternoon between getting home from work and my daughter coming home from her day program.

5.) Q: You have a blog “Some of Sue’s Thoughts.” How did you decide to begin this blog?

 A: I started my blog because I had all these stories written and no place to keep them, plus I wondered if I was able to get my point across to others with my writing. The blog seemed like a good place to share them.

6.) Q: What do you write about on your blog?

 A: My blog isn’t about one specific thing, as the title implies, it’s simply whatever I feel like writing about at the time.  It contains stories about everything from my life with my daughter with special needs, my other daughter, my husband, memories from my childhood, to poison ivy, poetry, spiders, and technology.  The most read post on my blog is “I’m Not Always Gracious” which is short, but is about my feelings when my youngest daughter graduated from middle school.  The least read is the very first post “Broken Shells” which is about both my daughters and is also my favorite.

7.) Q: We are both members of the same writers group. How does this group help you with your writing?

 A: The writers group keeps me motivated to keep writing when I get into a funk and I think that everything I write is garbled nonsense. It also has helped me learn some writing techniques and gives me feedback about whether or not I’m successfully getting my point across to the reader.

8.) Q: Do you have specific writing goals for this year? If so, what are they?

 A: My writing goals for this year are to submit and (hopefully) publish four articles on The Mighty and also to find one other publication that will use my stories occasionally.  I also am trying to be more consistent about posting on my blog once a week.

9.) Q; What is your favorite part about writing?

 A: I like focusing my thoughts on something and then exploring different aspects of it when I write an article or a story.  With the poems, I like that I am connecting with people and am not above a rhyming challenge.  I love to play with words and their order and try to say something in a way that has some rhythm and rhyme. 

10.) Q: I know a German company saw one of your articles in the Mighty.com and used it for a promotion. Can you tell us about that?

 A: I wrote a story for The Mighty about the ways that my youngest daughter, who has multiple disabilities, is the same as neurotypical people of all ages.  A few weeks after being published I received a message in the comments section of my blog from a representative of a German based production company.  They wanted to know if I would give them permission to use some of the points of my article and the pictures of my daughter and me that were with it to make a short video to raise awareness of disability issues and specifically the ways in which we are all the same.  After doing some research on the company I gave my permission and they sent me a link to the finished product.  It was in German and was about 30 seconds long, but they did a nice job and credited both me and The Mighty as sources.  It was a surprise when it happened.

11.) Q: Would you like to conclude the interview with some of your thoughts?

 A: I’d like to thank you for interviewing me, and for sharing your publishing journey with me and the members of our writers group.  Writing is a good way to exercise the mind, and I think it’s fun to do.  The way some people feel about buying shoes is how I feel about notebooks and pens–that is, every pretty or unique one I see I want to have.  Nothing is more pleasurable than opening a brand new notebook or journal and writing in it with a brand new pen.

Keep writing, Sue! You brighten your readers’ day with you wit, keen observations, and rhymes.

I Am Jane Doe — Special Viewing & Panel Discussion

On the evening of July 18th, I had the opportunity to attend the special viewing and panel discussion of the film I Am Jane Doe. Since my novel True Mercy deals with the topic of human trafficking and I want to be involved in the movement to end slavery, it was important for me to attend and learn more.

That evening I encountered many women and men at the meeting dedicated to ending slavery. However, as we watched the film, we learned about the obstacles anti-human trafficking organizations, attorneys, law enforcement officials, and politicians have in confronting these underground organizations. One of those obstacles, as shown in the film, is the quest to shut down Backpage.com’s ads selling children for sex. Despite numerous court battles throughout this country, Backpage.com keeps prevailing.

Some background on Backpage.com: it was started in 2004 and is now the second largest buying and selling of products and services website (Craigslist.com is the largest). They control 80% of the market for sex ads. Many of their ads feature underaged teenage girls in provocative poses under the guise of “escort services.” Backpage.com even helps pimps create and develop these ads, using code words like “fresh off the boat” for “underaged.” One would think this criminal activity would be easy to stop, but in court case after court case, from Seattle to Boston, Backpage.com has prevailed. Judges keep dismissing the cases.

There are an estimated 150,000 underaged human trafficking victims in the US alone. When a teenage girls runs away from home, they are susceptible to strangers who pretend to understand and care about them, and before they realize what is happening, they are manipulated or tricked into human trafficking. This includes being raped and given drugs like heroin and meth. In the film My Name Is Jane Doe, former victims and their parents discussed their experiences. Fortunately, these girls were spotted being advertised for sex and then rescued, but when both parents and children filed suit against Backpage.com, this website hired expensive attorneys who used first amendment rights of free speech and CDA 230* to successfully triumph in every lawsuit.

Currently, Ann Wagner, the Republican representative for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, introduced the bill HR1865 on April 3, 2017 to amend Section 230 so owners of the websites like Backpage.com can be held responsible.

I urge readers to join in their efforts. You can do this in many ways: watch the film I AM JANE DOE—check media listings for when it is being presented; call your US representatives for support of HR1865, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Trafficking Act of 2017;” sign the petition at CHANGE.ORG, which urges Google, Facebook, and Microsoft to stop their support of child sex trafficking; and log onto organizations on social media to spread awareness. For instance, in New Jersey, there is NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking on Facebook and @NJ_Coalition on Twitter. And of course, a donation of any amount to help fund the efforts to enact HR1865 would be most welcome.

*Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that “’No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’ This portion of §230 is often characterized as granting website owners complete immunity regarding any content posted by users. “

–Taken from “The Lawless Internet? Myths and Misconceptions About CDA Section 230” By Mary Anne Franks

Book Review: The Confusion of Languages

I was on vacation last week, attending a beautiful family wedding in Columbus, Ohio.

This past weekend I read a book I couldn’t put down: The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon. It intrigued me because it takes place in the Middle Eastern country of Jordan during the Arab Spring and the characters are Americans connected with the US embassy. How often do readers get the opportunity to read a story in this setting?

However, politics was not the main subject. Rather, it was about two wives of US soldiers and their intricate relationship involving loyalty, jealousy, and dependence. Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw strike a friendship but tension lies below the surface: Margaret has a baby while Cassie is infertile, Cassie is vigilant about security while Margaret laughs off her concerns, and Cassie is organized while Margaret is careless. Then one day Margaret asks Cassie to babysit her son while she is supposed to go on a quick errand but ends up disappearing. Cassie then discovers her friend’s inner turmoil and realizes what she has observed on the surface is far more complicated. Adding to the friction are the misunderstandings in behavioral protocol between the sexes on Margaret’s part, which results in tragic consequences.

The relationship between the women weaves a tale not to be easily forgotten. Despite the tensions and resentments, there is love, loyalty, and forgiveness. The writing is exquisite and the reader can feel empathy for both Cassie and Margaret. The male characters, however, are vague, their actions and motivations at times unclear. But this story is a page-turner that will leave the reader reflecting about the trials of the characters long after finishing the book.

Reading about everyday life in Jordan is a rare opportunity. Author Fallon explains the mores and values of this Islamic country and gives one a glimpse of Middle Eastern culture. Since Fallon has lived in Jordan, this glimpse feels authentic. The reader sees the good as well as the challenges. For instance, Arabs demonstrate great hospitality to strangers; yet when a conflict arises, they will defend their own over what is right.

While I don’t want to give away the ending, I’ll say luck does not change for the characters—they don’t experience the redemption they crave. However, one couple learns to appreciate what they have even if their lives are less than perfect.

Blog Readers: Do you enjoy reading thrillers? Check out my book True Mercy, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. I would love to know what you think of it.

Luck Can Change

It was highly unlikely anyone would have ever heard of this man. He wasn’t born into a famous family. His beginnings offered no hint of greatness. By the nature of how the world operates, he should have lived his life in obscurity, his existence forgotten long ago.

This man was born in 1887 and was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma. Evidently, being born a Native American in the 19th century was by no means a promise of a privileged life. And he was beset by tragedies while still young: his twin brother Charlie died of pneumonia at the age of nine. The twins were attending the Sac and Fox Indian Agency School in Stroud, Oklahoma at the time, and Charlie had helped him get through school. After his brother’s death, he kept running away so his father had to put him into the Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas. Both his parents died when he was in his teens.

As you can see, this young boy did not have much of a chance in life. After all these tragedies and setbacks, he could have just given up.

But he didn’t. He persevered. And eventually, his luck changed.

In 1904, at the age of sixteen, he attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This school was funded by the federal government and served as an Indian boarding school. One of the school’s coaches happened to be Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, a football coach who years later would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Warner recognized this young man’s athletic talents, but since he only weighed 155 pounds, the coach feared he would be too easily tackled. Instead Warner steered him toward track and field. But this young man finally convinced Warner to allow him to serve as a substitute football player. Warner would write that he “ran around past and through them not once, but twice.”

In 1911, under Coach Warner’s direction, this young man played as a running back, a defensive back, a placekicker, and a punter. He scored all his team’s points in a pivotal match against Harvard, beating them 18-15. At the time Harvard was one of the best teams in the beginning years of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In 1912, Carlisle Indian Industrial School won the national collegiate championship largely due to his efforts: he scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points for the team. He earned the All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912.

But this young man wasn’t finished yet.

In the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, he won gold medals in the pentathlon and the decathlon. He also placed fourth in the high jump final and seventh in the long jump. Incredibly, the day he won his medals someone had stolen his shoes so he had to compete with shoes he found in a garbage bin.

Impressive, huh? But that’s not all.

After coming home from the Olympics, he competed in the Amateur Athletic Union’s All-Around Championship in Queens, New York. This competition consisted of ten events. This Native American born into poverty won seven events and placed second in the other three. Martin Sheridan, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, had previously set the record for this All-Around Championship by scoring a total of 7,385 points in 1909. This young man broke his record by scoring 7,476 points. Sheridan watched him break his record and had this to say about him: “He is the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today.”

So who was this man who suffered so many setbacks and tragedies early in his life and went on to accomplish so much?

He was none other than Jim Thorpe. He is remembered as being “the greatest athlete in the world.”

Many of us feel stymied and frustrated. We weren’t born into a prominent family or wealth, which gives one an edge to achieve great things. We feel life refuses to give us a chance. In those low moments, remember Jim Thorpe—a shining example that luck can change.

Information taken from Wikipedia.

A Lesson in Persistence

Sports teaches us many lessons about life, yet it is only a microcosm of what we ordinary people have to endure in our lives.

What comes to mind as I write this article is the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 4th game of the NBA World Championship of 2017 that took place only a few weeks ago.

The finals were not looking good for the Cavaliers. Not good at all. They were down zero to three games to the Golden State Warriors and it looked as if they were might as well throw in the towel.

With the deck stacked against them, no one would blame them for going into game 4 with only a half-hearted effort. Their chances of winning the championship were just about nil. I myself didn’t think the game was even worth watching. I compared them to sheep awaiting the slaughter.

But then magic happened.

Instead of entering the game with fear and trepidation, they approached with strength and determination.

“We have championship DNA,” Lebron James, the Cavaliers’ star player and acknowledged leader of the team, was quoted.

Indeed they did. The Cavaliers set the Finals record for points scored in the first quarter (49) and the first half (86). James broke the record set by Magic Johnson by achieving his ninth triple-double. For the entire game, the three best players, James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, scored a combined 94 points.

It was a magical, meaningful moment. Despite the 0-3 deficit against the Warriors, the Cavaliers played like champions and won 137-116 in game 4.

However, their good fortune would not last. In game 5, playing in Golden State, the Warriors defeated them 129-120 for the 2017 NBA Championship.

Giving up is easy. Persistence is not. Despite all the hurdles placed before them, win or lose, they fought a good fight.

Then again, most of us are not the Cleveland Cavaliers. We don’t make millions of dollars a year. We don’t rise to the level of playing for the National Basketball Association or any other top tier organization. We face more hardships than they do on an everyday basis such as paying our bills on time and hoping there’s enough left over to enjoy life. Despite our will and hard work, we seem to only make progress in much smaller increments and no matter how much we dream, work, and plan, we keep coming up short and disappointed.

Our will to forge ahead actually shows more strength and determination than earning millions as a world-class basketball player because we carry on despite the lack of reaching those career heights and the lucrative salary that would allow us to live out our dream life.

Lebron and the Cavaliers are not the only ones with championship DNA. We the ordinary people who get used to having our hearts broken every day and feeling we are falling further and further down the abyss are the true champions while we wait for some magic to happen in our own lives.

Where Has Our Humanity Gone?

Forty years ago this was a very different America. It used to be when an employee faithfully worked hard for a company for twenty-five years or more, a retirement party would be thrown in recognition of the employee’s efforts and contributions. Sometimes, the officers of the company rewarded this individual with an expensive watch or other gift as a form of appreciation and a fond farewell. The employee would then retire with dignity and satisfaction.

Those days are fading. Instead, a disturbing trend has taken over America that affects morale and destabilizes society. More and more, older employees that are only a few years shy of retirement are being let go. No party. No appreciation. Often, they are escorted out the door. And that’s just the beginning of the turmoil these individuals face.

Many still have mortgages, children in school, and other major expenses. They eventually lose their health care benefits, which often makes proper medical care unaffordable. Unemployment is a fraction of their previous salary and only lasts for so long. Thus, loss of income from employment can put these older employees and their families in financial straits. Unfortunately, that’s not all.

Many companies advertising open positions often subtly or not-so-subtly practice age discrimination. “You’re overqualified,” interviewers tell them when they apply for a comparable job. Of course, what they are really saying is they don’t want to pay older and experienced people what they’re worth. As a result, older workers looking for a new position face substantial hurdles added to the difficulty of finding a good-paying job. Often older workers settle for minimum wage jobs when their unemployment runs out just so they can pay their bills.

And lest we forget, the psychological effects of workers losing their jobs, particularly when they expected they would be working for the same company until retirement, are often profound: depression, feelings of failure, and lack of direction now that they don’t have somewhere to go every day. Arguably, people are the healthiest if they feel they are productive, making contributions to society, and providing for themselves and their loved ones. Added to that, those reentering the labor market after twenty-five years or so encounter an entirely changed job market and application process, which only heightens their stress.

These “forced retirements” destabilize not only the older workers’ lives but also those closest to them. They have to scale back their lifestyle and now struggle with paying their bills. Some lose their homes and must find a less expensive place to live. Their families or significant others must endure these cutbacks, college plans can be derailed, they must dig into their nest egg, and they’ll have less funds for their future plans when they thought they were going to retire.

Who benefits from letting older workers go? Companies may enjoy more profits in the short term: younger workers expect lower salaries. For instance, the pay scale of recently graduated teachers are half that of much more experienced educators. However, resentment for these inhumane practices will linger and putting older workers in financial straits will likely lead to serious repercussions to the nation’s economy in the long-term. In other words, greedy behavior may lead to benefits in the short run but will eventually backfire on them.

Manchester

On May 22nd, a terrorist attack destroyed innocent lives and shattered their families. In the guise of religion, ISIS struck again, killing 22 innocent people, many of them children. I don’t understand how these destructive acts further their cause. It certainly doesn’t generate sympathy or understanding for these militants. I can only hope that justice will prevail sooner rather than later. In the meantime, what arises out of the ashes are heroes and villains. The heroes are our beacons of light and inspiration—they restore our faith in humanity and inspire us to keep working for a better future. The villains, on the other hand, demonstrate the long, long journey we have to go until evil is defeated. We saw both aspects in the suicide bombing after the Ariana Grande concert. The following are those participants thus far.

Heroes

We can never say homeless people have nothing to offer. Or a conscience. Upon hearing the massive explosions, Steve Jones, sleeping near the Manchester Arena, awoke with a start and helped rescue children, pulling nails out of their bodies. He and a friend also came to the aid of a woman who would have bled to death without their assistance.

Chris Parker, another homeless man, had intended to beg for money that evening. He rushed to assist victims. He comforted a girl who lost her legs and then cradled a woman until she died.

Paula Robinson was at the Victoria Train Station near the Manchester Arena when the bomb exploded. When she saw two young children saying “Where is my dad, get my dad,” Paula rushed over to them and told them she would take them away. As more children were running out of the arena, she directed them to run to the nearby Holiday Inn. Paula ended up leading about 50 children to safety.

Kim Dick and her husband Phil were waiting in the foyer for their family after the concert was over when the bomb went off. She took care of a 14 year-old girl who was fleeing the scene. She was covered in blood, her hair was burnt, and blood was oozing out of her mouth. Kim held her and stopped the blood spurting out of her legs and shoulder. The girl was hospitalized and fortunately survived, thanks to Kim Dick’s quick thinking.

Kelly Brewster made the ultimate sacrifice: she shielded her sister and niece when the bomb went off as they were leaving the arena. Her sister and niece suffered multiple injuries but will survive because Kelly protected them. She was an office worker who only the day before had put down a deposit on a house she was supposed to share with her boyfriend.

Villains

Very often there are evil perpetrators along with those shining lights of bravery. The one who decided his life objective was to bring tragedy and destruction to the world was a 22 year-old man named Salman Ramadan Abedi. He was a British Muslim whose parents came from Libya. Instead of contemplating a productive life now that he was living in a free country, Abedi embraced Islamic extremism. He studied business management at Manchester College but dropped out. Police believe he used his student loans, which are funded by taxpayers, to travel overseas and learn bomb-making.

This is what investigators have learned so far. It is certain more people were involved in this terrorist plot, their names most likely will be identified as more evidence comes to light.

Many times acts of evil bring out the best in humanity. Nevertheless, the 22 killed and the 116 injured have caused devastation for years to come. While we wish this evil did not exist, at the very least it gives us a clear perspective of who are the heroes and who are the villains.

Note: After I finished writing this piece, it happened again: On Saturday, June 3rd, three Muslim terrorists in a van ran over and knifed people before being shot dead by police. Seven were killed and 48 injured. When will it finally end?

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