Modern-Day Slavery: Raging In The U.S. And Abroad

Last week, I finished a piece for Human Events that explores human trafficking and its horrific impact on the lives of individuals and communities across the globe (I'll share it with you once it's published).  As a journalist, I must admit that I am fairly new to understanding this social ill. While I've always been aware of the problem as it occurs internationally, I am just learning of the dangers that the sex and forced-labor trade causes here in the United States.  The fact that American girls are regularly being abducted and forced into slavery is both hard to fathom and perplexing.

In recent weeks, I've become increasingly interested in learning about how I can be a positive catalyst for change.  My Human Events piece is the first step in terms of "doing something."  The second?  I will be attending an amazing event that Elisha Krauss is working hard to put together on Sept. 16th here in NYC!  I would highly encourage everyone to purchase a ticket (or tickets) to support the excellent work "Stop Child Trafficking Now" is doing to combat human trafficking.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for why we should all be engaged with preventing and stopping trafficking is captured in a recent Contra Costa Times piece.  Journalist Tracy Manzer writes,

According to the U.S. Department of State, approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide. They are forced into either sex or labor trafficking and more than half are children.

But not all the victims come from outside the U.S. or are poor and neglected.

"Our experience is human trafficking crosses all color lines and it crosses all socio-economic lines," said Long Beach Police Department Missing Persons Detective Kenneth Turner.

This is a problem that impacts us all.  I plan to write much more on this subject.  In the interim, why not explore what you can do to make change?  A good start would be donating to "Stop Child Trafficking Now" or, if you're in the NYC area -- or know someone who is -- purchasing tickets to the Sept. 16 event.  Let's work together to make our nation -- and world -- a better place.

GOP Reformation in the Bronx

In a piece by New York Times reporter Katherine Bindley entitled, "In This G.O.P., the 'O' Stands for Optimism," Bindley highlights a new, yet unlikely union: the Bronx County Young Republican Club. Upon discovering the article, I was taken aback - first, by the Times' mention of a Republican cause (although it should be noted that the article is fairly short in length, which is unsurprising; it's the Times, people) and secondly, by the formation of a Republican group in one of the nation's most staunchly liberal bastions. Alas, there is hope for New York! The piece opens with the following:

"MUCH of New York was abuzz on Tuesday evening celebrating the inauguration of President Obama in Washington. But at Venice, a noisy Italian bistro in the Morris Park section of the Bronx, an improbable event was taking place at that moment: the first official meeting of a nascent Bronx County Young Republican Club."

According to the Times, Chance Haywood is the group's chairman. A real estate broker, Haywood has delved head-first into his leadership role. Unlike some Republicans, he recognizes the necessity of captivating hearts and minds for purposes of reviving the party and the formation of this union is a first step toward doing just that. Haywood recognizes what most Republicans are just starting to confront: The need to "stem the tide" of liberal dominance. This is especially important if the GOP wants to claim local victory in future races - races that Democrats continue to win.

Let's face it: In the war of ideas, Democrats' proposals are like instant spray tan: They come on strong, then fade away quickly leaving a less-than-pleasing residue. If we step up the ante, there's no reason we can't reclaim some seats.

Luckily, Haywood has brilliant plans for the club. According to the Times, future activities may include guest speakers and community events. But, perhaps the most exciting element will be the work that the Bronx County Young Republican Club does with local colleges and universities - the localities where we are seeing liberal indoctrination take prominence. It's time to restore ideological equilibrium to America's campuses.

Importantly, Haywood also recognized a fact that is becoming increasingly more obvious as the days progress: Obama's policies might lead to a renewal and rejuvenation of the Republican Party. As per the Times, he said:

"Hopefully, this time we'll stick to our principles a little better than we did the last time," he said. "Assuming we ever get the majority of the House again."

While the GOP suffered major setbacks in 2006 and 2008, a renewal is upon us. But Haywood is right - we need to concentrate on restating, then sticking to our values. It is extremely encouraging to see Haywood and others joining together to form cohesion in one of the most unlikely localities. This is a group we are sure to hear more from; the fate of our nation may depend on such activism. Now, let's work together to create and sustain other groups like it. It's time to renew our party.

Would-be Tragedy Inspires Reflection

On Thursday, a feeling of relief overtook anxious New Yorkers when news reports explained that a flock of geese most likely caused the emergency crash-landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549.  This news, accompanying images of the safe exit of all 155 passengers, eased the tensions of a great many people who feared that the crash was a replica of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001.  Thankfully, there was no terroristic catalyst involved.

I often find myself unaware or overlooking the fact that I live and work in a city that has remained a major target of potential terrorist attacks.  While it would be foolish to continuously focus on this undeniable fact, it is important to maintain a healthy level of personal awareness and to make occasional consideration of the events and ramifications of the attack that occurred more than seven years ago.  During and in the aftermath of last week's would-be tragedy, it was impossible to avoid this awareness.

At the same time that flight 1549 splashed into the middle of the Hudson River, I was fast at work at my office in Queens.  Upon receiving a text message from my father that read: "There is a plane in the Hudson."  I notified other staff members and went directly to the television, where most of the staff had come to see what was going on.  And what a relief it was to see the end result - every man and woman exiting the plane without a single casualty.

Living in the post 9-11 world and sitting in an office with windows that show the Manhattan skyline devoid of the Twin Towers, my first thought prior to turning on the television was "Oh no!  Not again."  Luckily, my first reaction was anything but valid.  We were truly lucky - as were the inhabitants of flight 1549.

The relief I felt when I saw these men and women being brought to safety was immense.  And while I ventured back to my desk, I couldn't help but think about the horror our nation has gone through this past decade.  Had this crash-landing occurred in 2000, the words "act of terrorism" wouldn't have so readily materialized in my mind.  The world has truly changed.

With a new administration coming in, America cannot afford to cut loose when it comes to protecting the homeland.  It is these thoughts that have been going through my mind since Thursday afternoon. 

Ironically, this morning, I read a short post on The New York Times' City Room blog entitled, "Sept. 11 Death Toll Rises by One, to 2,752."  The piece read:

Leon Bernard Heyward did not die until last October, at the age of 45. But his name was added Friday to the official list of people who died as a result of the attack on Sept. 11, 2001.


Heyward was exposed to dust while working at Ground Zero.  Although his death comes years after the event that has forever changed America, he is yet another hero who is being counted among those murdered by radical Islamic fascists on U.S. soil.  His name is not being invoked in this case to create anger in readers; rather, it is being presented to serve as a reminder of the sacrifices our nation was forced to make - sacrifices that continue to plague many of the men and women who volunteered during the aftermath of the attacks.

Thankfully, flight 1549 landed safely and has been slated an accident.  Luckily, we have not had to endure another 9-11 and I pray that we will never have to again.  The new administration - and most importantly Americans - mustn't forget what happened in 2001.  While it often seems embedded in the past, families, individuals and policy-makers need to remember all that was lost so that our nation does not become complacent again. 

Paterson's Budget Deemed Dangerous?

From proposed tax increases on music downloads to the now famed "obesity tax" many New Yorkers are less than pleased with Gov. Paterson's suggested amendments.  And it's not just Republicans who are on the defensive; Democrats and independent members of the electorate are following suite with frustration directed at the Democratic governor during an already perplexing fiscal crunch.  And much like the electorate, elected officials are also voicing relevant concerns. According to the New York Daily News, state Controller Thomas DiNapoli claims that the governor's current budgetary plan will cut away one billion dollars from New York City over the next 15 months.  As per the Daily News:

In a preliminary review of Paterson's 2009-10 spending plan, DiNapoli found the city would lose $669 million in school aid and $328 million in general municipal aid under the governor's plan.

While DiNapoli's report is generally supportive of Paterson's budget, he expresses concern over the viability of proposed taxes and related means for bringing in the needed revenues that would close the budgetary gaps of concern.  As the city claims that disparities can be remedied through these mechanisms, others -- like DiNapoli -- aren't as confident. According to the Daily News, DiNapoli stated the following,

"It's a step in the right direction. But there are risks in the governor's plan."

DiNapoli's report stresses the strain these cuts will place on the city.  Joining in this recognition is Mayor Bloomberg and his administration:

The report backs up Mayor Bloomberg's claim that Paterson's budget was harsher to the city than the governor's office portrayed.

"The cuts should be proportional and New York City is being asked to bear a far greater burden than any other city in the state," Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna said.

Then, there is New York State Senator Reverent Ruben Diaz.  Diaz -- a Democrat -- is highly critical of Paterson's budget cuts and deems them extremely detrimental to the state's most neediest communities.  While expressing his opposition to the governor's budget cuts, Diaz had this to say:

We have always blamed the Republicans for proposing cuts that abuse our communities. Yet, now that we, Democrats, are in the majority in the State legislature and we have a Democrat in the Governor's office, how can we continue to direct cuts to our communities and our people when we can confront the economic crisis in other ways. We cannot use the economic crisis as an excuse to continue to harm our communities while protecting the rich.

Abuse our communities?  One cannot actually believe that every tax dollar is being spent properly.  After all, there must be areas of improvement that can and must be targeted for optimal usage of tax payer dollars.  A funding cut in itself does not necessarily indicate "abuse" of a community, as Diaz implies.

Of course, I support Diaz's political perspective, but we are dealing with a crisis that calls upon all Americans -- and in the case New Yorkers -- to recognize the need to make reasonable budget cuts.  New York's current spending pattern involves taking in less than is spent and in the long term this nonsensical financing is simply unsustainable at the city, state and national levels.  It is disconcerting that some Democrats seem incapable of understanding this basic fact.

While making cuts is less than ideal, doing so at this juncture will ensure a more prosperous future.  If we do not act now, the sacrifices that will be required in the future will be monumentally more extreme.  Seeing decreases in funding affect education and needy communities is disconcerting, but the need for cuts is more pressing than most recognize it to be.

Raising taxes is never popular with Republicans, but Paterson has -- at the least -- met this crisis with a mentality that calls for a hybrid model, complete with cuts and increases.  Again, I am not championing either, but something must be done to ensure fiscal security.  These are surely atypical times.

Now is the time for New York City, New York State and the United States of America to cut corruption, reign in spending and figure out the viability and reliability of programs so that costs and benefits can be properly assessed.  The money pit is empty and refilling it means making more tailored decisions that truly meet the citizens' needs.

This piece was written for Billy Hallowell’s Red County blog located at