Hanging On By Our Fingernails…

By now the images from Paris have permeated our consciousness and burrowed deep in to the valley of our soul. Close our eyes and we see thousands huddled together on a soccer field, bloody bodies on sidewalks, bullet holes in café windows, the moment of recognition by the band on stage.

Fleeing the horror of the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert venue, a pregnant woman clings perilously to a window ledge.
Fleeing the horror of the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert venue, a pregnant woman clings perilously to a window ledge.

Of all the horror we’ve seen these past three days, for me the most haunting of all is the desperate concert goers hanging, literally by their fingernails from the windows of the Bataclan venue; dangling two and three stories above the street. In one frame we can see someone rush to a window and grab the wrist of a pregnant woman who appears to be slipping. The video ends without our knowing whether those people were rescued or whether they fell to the alley below.

It is an image of total panic and desperation, reminiscent of the last time evil came to call on this scale. None of us will ever forget the photos from 9-11 of people facing such horror that jumping from a window was the best option.

I hate to admit it, but on some level the terrorists are succeeding: One need only to see the news footage from two days after the  Paris attacks, where a crowd who had gathered to hold a vigil was sent in to a screaming, rampaging panic by a random noise, to acknowledge that underneath the facade of resistance is a deep seated fear.

Heavily armed police and military patrols are a common and reassuring sight on our city streets, yet we know they cannot be everywhere. Gatherings of sport and entertainment will go on, but underneath is a wariness not present before.

Paris has changed us in some ways even more than 9-11, because after all these years, we have been shown that carnage can still happen on a mass scale.

One thing I’m changing: I won’t be using the expression, “Hanging by my fingernails” ever again.

What I’m not changing is my fervent hope and prayer that good will ultimately prevail over evil.

Fiorina and Clinton book covers

Rising Toward the Last Glass Ceiling…

Will the 2016 election be historic? The odds are looking better and better…

Fiorina and Clinton book covers
According to their book covers, Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton have had to make tough & hard choices along the way.

While many women continue to bump up against the glass ceiling in their respective fields, the country watches as two women, one Democrat, one Republican, move toward the highest glass ceiling in the land; the Presidency of the United States.

Hillary Clinton came close eight years ago. One can only imagine how hard it was for her to see what many believe has been a long held goal, to be America’s first woman President, slip from her grasp.

She handled the loss with grace and team spirit, supporting her opponent in the general election and accepting the consolation prize of Secretary of State. And now she’s back, to try at age 67, for what is likely the last time.

Her decades of government and political experience leave little doubt of her ability to do the job. But she is once again in a tough fight, this time of her own making, due to her use of a private email server while at the State Department.

On the Republican side, Carly Fiorina has had a near meteoric rise in the polls since her two outstanding debate performances. If and when Donald Trump is out of the race, (Private editorial comment inserted here: That time can not come soon enough.) Fiorina could emerge as a/the top candidate.

There has been no lifetime in politics for Fiorina: A college dropout who started at Hewlett Packard as a receptionist, she’s worked hard to have what should have been a fairy tale ending…becoming CEO of the company.

Instead the ending was a nightmare: Fiorina was unceremoniously let go by the board of HP who accused her of running the company in to the ground. She next surfaced publicly when she ran for the U.S. Senate in California, losing to incumbent Barbara Boxer, a race many had thought was winnable.

Like Hillary, Carly has proven her courage and toughness through numerous challenges including battling breast cancer, burying a stepdaughter who died of a drug overdose, and holding her own in a Republican field of sixteen men.

No matter what party or candidate you support, if you’re a woman, please get involved. The political process needs you! And you might even help make history!!

Women of the World at the United Nations

That first view of Manhattan is always a thrill but never more so than knowing we were headed for the United Nations.

Every conceivable event, product, food, seems to have its own day or month: March alone runs the gamut from ridiculous to serious, from National Ear Muff Day to International Women’s Month. Although it was chilly enough for the former, it was in honor of the latter that I, along with friend and colleague, Attorney Eleanor Breslin of Easton, traveled to New York to attend the United Nation’s Conference on the Status of Women. 

Eleanor and I share a desire to have a positive impact on the struggles of women in the developing world, especially in post-conflict countries where war and violence have resulted in many women being subjected to brutality beyond the imagining of most westerners. Eleanor has traveled to Africa to work with victims of mass rape and I have been to Afghanistan as both an advocate and writer. We have found outlets for our passion on this side of the ocean through two NGO’s, The Business Council for Peace, Bpeace, an organization whose focus is creating women entrepreneurs who will then create jobs, and Open A Door Foundation, OAD, who believes in global transformation through women’s higher education.

Four of OAD’s students are currently in the Lehigh Valley, three at Lehigh University and one at Lafayette College. More will be coming in the fall of 2014, including the addition of a student at Muhlenberg College.  It was at the invitation of OAD that Eleanor and I boarded a bus bound for New York and the United Nations’ CSW Conference.

To call our experience “inspiring” would be an understatement. Sharing the energy of women from around the world all gathered in one place for one purpose, advocating for the welfare of their sisters, creates an atmosphere of “anything is possible”. Eleanor and I especially enjoyed two panel discussions where OAD co-founder, Barbara Bylenga, participated; “Empowering Women as Change-Agents through Global Networking” and “From Higher Education to Women’s Leadership”.

Panel discussion on “Empowering Women as Change-Agents” at the UN Conference on the Status of Women

After spending time in the company of hundreds of women committed to improving conditions for women within their countries, it’s almost easy to envision a future where every woman enjoys equal protection under the law and equal opportunity in their culture. Yet, certain voices remain with me, certain faces are imprinted on my mind days after returning home, like the woman representing a united federation of women’s organizations from the Ukraine, who stood to say that the young women of her country are demanding democracy. And the woman who spoke of the Syrian university students her organization is rescuing so they can continue their education. Through the euphoria of our common purpose, they are a stark reminder of the realities that still exist.

Why should this matter to those of us whose lives are safe and secure? Because where women are repressed, uneducated, brutalized, half of that country’s potential is lost. No economy can thrive without the input of its women. The result is poverty, war, turmoil, and terrorism.

In honor of International Women’s Month, and for the good of the planet, please consider doing your part to have a positive effect on the future of women around the world. Donate; Volunteer; Mentor. One person CAN make a difference.

Mary Barra

Barra Ascendency A Double Win…

Mary Barra
Mary Barra, GM’s new CEO.

Mary Barra’s rise to CEO at General Motors is a win not only for women who wonder if their gender will ever see parity in America’s corporate “C” Suites, it’s also a win for STEM proponents everywhere. Mary rose through the ranks not from sales or marketing but as an engineer. One of her first public statements after her appointment was to promote the importance of girls, and boys, becoming proficient in science and math.

According to an article on CNBC online, labeling Barra a “rock star”, her mere presence at this week’s Detroit auto show caused a near media riot. While this level of attention will undoubtedly be short-lived, let’s hope her influence on how women view their chances of making it to the top, are not. And if even one smart little girl decides it’s cool to study math, science, biology, & engineering, then Mary Barra will have something, beyond her own success, to be very proud of.

Do You Believe In Magic?

Well do you…do you believe in magic? I do, and sometimes it is what keeps me going during those times when you think you’re never going to be happy, or successful, or appreciated, again. I believe that out there, somewhere, is always the possibility that lightening will strike and offer us mere mortals one of those rare moments when all the stars align.

Such a moment happened recently to Sarah Horn. Sitting in a Hollywood Bowl audience of 15,000 at a Kristin Chenoweth concert, Sarah had no idea that her lightening strike moment was coming. Chenoweth often chooses someone from her audience to come on stage to “sing” with her. Last Friday evening Chenoweth stopped in front of Sarah, who due to a ticket mix-up was in a different seat, to ask if she knew the words to the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked.  The result of this random audience selection is usually an endearing amateur effort followed by a quiet return to their seat.

Not this time: The video of Horn’s performance with Chenoweth has gone beyond viral with nearly two million hits. No wonder, it’s the kind of moment we all dream of having…of getting our shot. But this was so much more, Sarah Horn was ready; an unknown vocal instructor from Riverside, California, she had in her own way been preparing for this all her life. She had the goods and she delivered, knowing this would never come again. She got up on that stage in front of thousands, stood next to a Broadway star and held her own…it was magic.

The pay-off has come, too; Horn has been inundated with requests for interviews and she’s doing a little interviewing of her own…for an entertainment attorney and an agent. You go girl!! 

Sarah Horn’s inspiring performance provides a real life-lesson for the rest of us: Never give up your dreams; always believe in magic; and most importantly, be prepared to wow ’em when your moment comes. Oh yes, and when they make a mistake with your ticket, trust that your fairy god-mother is on duty and move post-haste to the new location.

What Price…

With my husband, Zsolt, in Alaska...
With my husband, Zsolt, in Alaska…
“Life is full of trade-offs. Based on our own value system, we’ll accept a little of “this” so we can have some of “that”. Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth but I wouldn’t want to live there because for me the price is too high: A glorious eight week summer of sparkling lakes and mountain meadows surrounded by a couple of months of cool & cloudy rain, sandwiched in between mind-numbing cold and snow. Nearly three quarter of a million people disagree with me and it’s those differences in the trade-off scale that make the world go round.

I wonder what Edward Snowden was willing to trade when he divulged the inside workings of the US NSA surveillance set-up. He has most certainly changed his life forever and at the age of 29, that’s saying something since he likely has much more life in front of him than behind. Believed to be hiding out in Hong Kong, a place that has already indicated they will likely extradite him if the US government requests it, he’s gone from “The world is my oyster international consultant” to one of the world’s most wanted men in the blink of an eye. Being at the center of a media feeding frenzy is almost never a good thing unless your last name is Kardashian.

The personal fate of Snowden aside, he has raised the bar on the issue of “what price” and “what will we trade”…  Now that we know our own government is spying on us, following our communication trails, and storing that information, what price are we willing to pay to stop the bad guys and how much of our privacy and freedom are we willing to trade to do it? On your trade-off sliding scale will you tolerate the intrusion of your government in to your private, constitutionally protected rights in return for the promise from that government that will keep you safe?

As for me; I don’t live in Alaska because the beauty isn’t worth freezing nine months of the year. And as much as I think Edward Snowden should be dragged home and put on trial as a traitor, there is a part of me that is grateful to know the information that he revealed because I also don’t believe my government needs to intrude in the lives of its citizens to this extent.

First Check Reality Check…

By now, almost everyone who earns one has received their first paycheck of 2013. Depending on your income bracket and your budget the reality of what the expired Payroll Tax Cut means to you is starting to hit home. 2% more out of your paycheck probably didn’t sound like much in the abstract when you hear it on the news, but now that the actual numbers are staring you in the face, the reality is something else entirely.

One night this week, just after dark, our doorbell rang, not a common occurrence for this empty nest. It was the young man who does handy work for us. Bob, not his real name, is sincere, hardworking, and trustworthy. He holds down a full-time blue collar job managing a small warehouse, helping his “moonlighting” customers at night and on weekends. He’s single, has his own apartment, and drives a beautiful extended cab truck that is his pride and joy. We’ve come to know him well enough to know he’s not a party boy; he keeps a schedule and a budget.

When Bob stepped inside I could see how upset he was. Pam, he said, I’ve stopped by to see if you have any extra work for me. I got my paycheck today and the new taxes are going to cost me over $100 a month. I’m not sure what to do.

What I didn’t have the heart to tell Bob is that our fist paycheck came, too, and the amount our budget will have to be adjusted is a bit more than $100 a month. We do know what we have to do: We have to cut back on discretionary spending like how much we give to charity, how often we go out to dinner, and how much we use services such as a handyman.

This story is playing out across the country at every income level. Yes, there is a segment of the population that will be much less effected than others. The $1200 a year loss that has Bob in a panic is pocket change to some, but for most of us the impact of this change in income has consequences.

The ripple effects are already a topic of conversation across the blogosphere and social media: The hash tag, #YourPaycheckIsLowerThisWeek has been one of the top trends on Twitter, and no less than liberal bastion MSNBC posted an article titled “Americans Feel Austerity’s Bite As Payroll Taxes Rise”

I’m no economist but if I read the situation in Washington correctly, better buckle your financial seatbelts because unlike Thelma & Louse, we may not have gone over the fiscal cliff, but this is just the first mile on a very bumpy road ahead.

What does the Payroll Tax Increase mean to you?

A Different Type of Warrior

Zarghona w-family 2011As my European friends would say, I’m “on holiday” this week. Translated in to American, that means I’m on vacation, so I was not planning to post my regular “Woman Warrior Wednesday” feature. Then, out of the blue, came these photographs of Zarghona, the young Afghan girl I found dying in a hospital in Kabul in 2006, now looking very happy with her family.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a story about Zarghona, for a woman’s global communications network, "World Pulse". The WP story was based on the last information I had about her, which was several years old. Retelling the harrowing story of how so many people had come together to save Zarghona from a terminal heart condition, and how after seeing her on my last trip to Afghanistan, I had no further information on her, prompted me to reach out to Dr. Ismail Wardak, the Afghan doctor who had been instrumental in bridging the language and culture barriers we had to cross to save her.

The result of that effort are the two photos you see here: Top, a smiling Zarghona with her parents, and below, with the wonderful Dr. Wardak, one of Afghanistan’s leading orthopedic surgeons. What do these photos tell us?  Zarghona w-Wardak 2011

Do they tell us that the media focus on the woeful condition of the Afghan National Army is accurate? Do they confirm the hyperbole of the pundits and talking heads, many of whom have never been to Afghanistan or have little first-hand knowledge of the Afghan Army, or for that matter, of our extensive US efforts to train them, that when they portray the ANA as unable and/or unwilling to defend their own country, the media are ill-informed?

The Afghan people are frequently stereotyped as ignorant, unaware, or unwilling to build their own future. I challenge you to look at these photographs of this family: A father who is a professional soldier, like many of our own warriors; a loving stay-at-home wife and mother who when her child was dying, never left her side, and a young teenager with a sweet smile, who now has a healthy and hopefully long future ahead of her…

Look at them and tell me that Afghanistan is not filled with it’s own warriors, men, women, and children, who are fighting a battle, each in their own way, to live their lives in peace and security. 

Monday Musings: Summer Vacation…Timing Is Everything

stockmarketimages After some well placed and well timed hints from me, my husband agreed to take a week off so we could have a “summer getaway”. Nothing fancy, a rented place a block from the water off the Chesapeake Bay. The plan was to sleep, eat, and read. In exchange for his willingness to go away when he’s so busy at work, I, the news & technology junkie whose entire professional universe centers around electronic media, had to agree to “unplug”; a big commitment on my part.

August is usually a good time to for this sort of thing because so many other people are doing it…trying to grab that last gasp of summer before Q4 starts at the office and the kids go back to school.

We certainly picked some week for our summer vacation, a week when our country has suffered two enormous losses: Thirty of our best and brightest warriors in Afghanistan, and millions of dollars in our IRA and investment accounts.

I imagine my husband and I are like many Americans this week, we continued with our lives and our plans, but the relaxed, atmosphere that usually envelopes us on vacation was nowhere to be found. There is a sub-current of sadness that is hard to shake: A sense that it is disrespectful to be carefree when so many have sacrificed so much.

Just as the shock of the tragedy in Afghanistan was easing, the financial markets began a freefall resembling an out of control carnival ride. My “unplugged” promise went quickly by the wayside as the Dow Jones average plummeted. Checking my email, I found a message from the investment firm that we use, urging everyone to stay calm. I sent a quick little reply of support to the operations manager…thinking she could probably use a friendly message, only to have her write back to say that this recent dip has been the last straw for many. Her recounting sounded like a scene from a movie about the Great Depression; people banging on the door, screaming “sell, sell” over the phone, demanding their money in cash.

No matter where you are right now in this great land, from sea to shining sea, it’s a discomforting time for Americans. The families of our fallen soldiers are suffering and need our comfort, while our country is, perhaps, in the process of being changed forever.

I’m going to be glad to get home…

Woman Warrior Wednesday: Jessica L. Wright, Acting Principle Dep. Asst. Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs

WrightPortrait Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, then Brig. Gen. Jessica Wright, was summoned to Washington, D.C. At the end of a long day, which included learning that a good friend had died at the Pentagon, she and a few colleagues stopped at a little out-of-the-way Mexican restaurant. A group of men with cords in their ears arrived and Wright found herself face to face with her commander in chief.

Dressed in civilian clothes, Wright looked like any other citizen. One of her friends said, "Mr. President, this is Jessica Wright, and she’s a general in the Pennsylvania National Guard." When the President and Mrs. Bush were leaving, he walked to the table and said, "General, be ready." "Sir, we are ready," came the reply. Keeping one of the largest National Guard forces in the United States "ready," became the responsibility of Major General Jessica L Wright, the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania; the first woman ever to hold the position.

To those who know Wright, her history-making appointment was no surprise.

She grew up outside of Pittsburgh in a self-described blue-collar family, where "everyone worked." Her grandparents were coal miners, her mother worked full time, and her father held down two jobs, which may be why her parents insisted she get an education. Wright attended a small college in West Virginia where she graduated with a degree in social work.

Finding a job proved to be difficult, so she came home and enlisted in the National Guard, where, she says, “One opportunity led to another”.

One of those opportunities was flight school. "I was young and adventurous. There were people who didn’t think women belonged in flight school. They kept telling me I should be a nurse. Those people are still around. They’ve just gotten older, not wiser."

Upon graduating from flight school, in 1978, Jessica Wright became the first female Army aviator in the Army National Guard. Wright’s bio is filled with firsts, like being the Army’s first maneuver brigade commander; and it’s replete with honors, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and Senior Army Aviator badge.

In the fall of 2010, Wright retired with the rank of Major General from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. After such a career, many might rest on their laurels…or oak leaf cluster.

In November, 2010, Jessica Wright joined the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, where she currently serves as the acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, at the Pentagon. In that position Wright is a key advisor to and responsible for all matters of the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, as they relate to the men and women of the Guard and Reserve, with specific responsibility for all manpower, medical and personnel policy matters supporting 1.2 million members of the reserve components of the United States Armed Forces.

Jessica Wright continues to serve her country and her fellow soldiers, while providing an outstanding role model for women who want to build a successful military career.

Note: Portions of this post are from a previous interview I conducted with Major General Wright, and which appeared in my column in The Morning Call on January 2, 2004

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