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SYRIA: The Forgotten War

SYRIA: The Forgotten War

Posted on 19 April 2014 by Patricia Gras

As I read and keep up with the news about Syria on a daily basis I can’t help but think about a forgotten war taking place there on a daily basis. Recently a Jesuit priest was assasinated (which made news) in a war that has claimed over 150,000 lives, displaced 40 percent of its population of 23 million, and created 3 million refugees, half of those children. Let me repeat..children.

The main Syrian opposition body – the Syrian coalition – receives logistic and political support from major Sunni states in the Middle East, most notably Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. France, Britain and thd US have also provided political, military and logistic support to the oppositionT -The Assad government is backed primarily by Russia, Iran and China.

I disclose that I have an interest in Syria because my grandfather who was an orthodox Christian left with his family at the turn of the century and settled in Argentina. I met my family in Syria only a year before the war and sadly my aunt told me they were pawns of the world and that no one cared about them. Her words have turned out to be true. I remember my stomach turning with the Rwandan genocide and the Balkan’s brutal war. The world did little then until people began to speak out. I have no idea why our voices have been so silent with regards to Syria.

At this point, children and civilians are dying on a daily basis and there is little hope that any of the superpowers will become involved. The Syrian people in the mean time, suffer, die and grow increasingly hopeless because those of us who can speak out about the atrocities being committed towards civilians have silenced our voices. Is it because we too have lost hope? I don’t care if you are a Sunny, Shiite, Jew, Alawite or Christian. I just hope there is something we can do to stop this war.

A few years ago I interviewed Chris Hedges about his book “War is a Force That Gives us Meaning” He said that every soldier, no matter where he came from, called for someone right before death. That someone was their mother.
This Easter weekend, I ask for the world to pray for peace around the world and to remember there is a 4 year old conflict in Syria that perhaps prayers, words, and demand for a peaceful resolution can stop.

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Nelson Mandela a Man for All Times

Nelson Mandela a Man for All Times

Posted on 09 December 2013 by Patricia Gras

On the 20th anniversary of the Rothko Chapel, The Carter-Menil Human rights Foundation, founded in 1986, granted the newly released Nelson Mandela the special Human rights Rothko Chapel award in Houston Texas. The award was established to honor and emulate the spirit of Oscar Romero who was assassinated in 1980 while saying mass. These Rothko Chapel awards recognized individuals who risked their lives to denounce violations of human rights.

That day, Mandela received a joint award from former President Jimmy Carter and the former human rights advocate and philanthropist Dominique De Menil. I anchored the PBS show which featured the event. Mandela was a tall, quiet, regal yet extremely humble man. When he walked inside the chapel, there was total silence, and then suddenly, those lucky enough to be inside began clapping loudly for they knew they were among the lucky ones to witness history.

These last few days, almost everyone has praised Mandela for his character and his achievements and it should be so. There are still a few of those who feel he doesn’t deserve such adulation, such as former Vice President Cheney who called him a terrorist. The fact is he was even in the US Terror watch list until 2008. Why? He was a militant in fighting apartheid. It is interesting how over time, this so called “terrorist” became one of the most powerful figures in peace making, social justice and liberation.

“I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by whites.” — Mandela said in a statement to the court during the Rivonia trial, April, 20, 1964

Mandela forgave his detractors, united his country, didn’t allow himself to be vengeful, prejudiced or angry. Instead of striking back, he turned the other cheek. Instead of seething with rage, he studied and became highly disciplined and focused in his struggle. The fact that he was imprisoned for fighting the insane, inhumane and cruel system of apartheid didn’t make him a terrorist, it made him a man for all times.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” — Mandela said in a statement to the court during the Rivonia trial, April 20, 1964.

There are certain values that stand the test of time. Whatever he did was effective in changing not only South Africa’s apartheid system, but in waking up millions of others around the world to believe in his cause. He and his followers could not accept a system that denigrated one race over the other. Blacks for instance who constituted two-thirds of the population, were restricted to 7.5% of the land. Whites, who made up one-fifth of the population, were given 92.5 %. This is just one of the many injustices practiced by the confused and ignorant creators of apartheid. Mandela believed in the power of his own people and trusted they would stand by him. He also understood his countrymen needed to know the truth and then needed to forgive and move on from the scourge of apartheid.

“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us … We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” —

Mandela was one of the few leaders of the world who walked the talk.

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Where will this road lead us?

Obamacare, failure or success? Only time will tell

Posted on 25 November 2013 by Patricia Gras

I live in the state with the highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation. I also live in the state where a high number of local politicians wanted and celebrated the failure of the Obamacare roll out. One of our state’s top national leaders against Obama care is Mr. Ted Cruz, whose parents once lived in Canada where they had access to “socialized” Canadian health care. Yes, I am talking about one of the richest, highest job and oil producing states in the nation. We also rank very low on health care and public education, but who cares as long as we create jobs right?

Well, nothing changes people’s minds faster than what affects their pocketbook. In the case of health care access, it can be a huge catalyst for changing how people feel or will feel about Obamacare.
Right now, the website is still not working perfectly. The roll out has been undoubtedly a failure. The president has had to apologize, not only for that but also for saying things that didn’t turn out to be true. This is something that seems unprecedented. The fact is, obamacare is in critical condition and in the next few months and years, we will find out if it will be cured or killed for good.

What I believe has been truly missing in the health care debate is another viable solution to denial of health coverage to those with pre existing conditions, mental health parity, the high cost of certain procedures, the focus on treatment vs. prevention, medical fraud and
the overall health state of our nation. Even if Obamacare works, more than 40 million might remain uninsured. Those who are earning less than the poverty level will be eligible for neither Medicaid nor subsidies; so much of the law still remains a mystery.

What we do know is that insurance companies, hospitals, health institutions and the pharmaceutical industry employ millions of Americans. They are a big part of our economy and they have powerful lobbyists. They are doing just fine with the system the way it is but many are not, and it is a very complicated issue to resolve with any law frankly. But here are my questions that politicians hardly ever answer.

What happens if we keep things the way they are? The costs of health care will eventually destroy our economy. We can’t be on this path forever. No country can thrive when it spends 17.9 percent of gross national product on health care. Something has to give. What happens with the millions who don’t have insurance? Do we truly think the private health care system will take care of them, when their purpose is to make profits? What about those with mental illnesses? Do we really believe they don’t suffer from physical illnesses so they should not be covered (even though mental illnesses are physical illnesses? Then there are those people like me, who have a pre existing conditions (I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009) and my choice after losing my job due to layoffs, was to pay 750 dollars a month. That without a job.

We are the richest nation in the world, but also the least healthy of all industrialized nations. We focus on treatment because it pays better than prevention. Too many of us are obese, sick and tired.
The system is broken, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t benefit millions who want to keep it as it is.

We may have the best medicine in the world but at a very high cost we as a nation can’t seem to afford. The past few years have been contentious for those for and against Obamacare. The problem is that the focus has been more on politics, money, lobbyists, and the law than on the people it affects and the problem itself and that is that there are millions of Americans who can not afford healthcare and that it is destroying our economy. I don’t believe the solution offered was the best but I am tired of the criticism without offering solutions. People literally spend time screaming at each other, while regular Americans suffer, live in fear, worry, lose all their savings, and some their dignity because they can’t pay.

This is going to take time to sort itself out. In the mean time there is a lot we as Americans can do. We must learn to take care of our health by preventing disease. That means we must learn what is in our food, which in the end is the best medicine. We must exercise daily and we must make sure we keep our wellness appointments, which help us prevent disease. We must learn to pay for a greater share or our health expenses so we become more careful about our choices. Last but not least we must become more informed about the truth and understand we all have to give up something to get something. Nothing is for free. We need to play a role in our own healing.

After months without insurance, I finally signed up for a plan through the website and by phone because I could not complete it on the website. Everyone was very kind and then after I signed up, I got a call from the insurance company, which felt like the FBI was investigating me. They knew everything about my healthcare. That didn’t surprise me. Health insurance companies are concerned they will get only sick people. The ones they abandoned because they were not healthy enough for them to make a profit.

Here is what I would like to see with Obamacare. There is real competition between insurance companies so the prices come down. Americans begin to take more responsibility for their health and get discounts for keeping their weight down, refrain from smoking and too much drinking and eating the wrong foods. Everyone gets insured, but they are required to keep their prevention appointments. The focus is on prevention, not treatments or drugs. Finally, we as Americans care for each other as if we were also the uninsured, mentally ill, jobless or homeless. Then we would care about what happens to most people and not just ourselves.

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12 Years a Slave: Wealth created through Cruelty, Injustice and Ignorance

12 Years a Slave: Wealth created through Cruelty, Injustice and Ignorance

Posted on 31 October 2013 by Patricia Gras

Since this movie, recently won the well deserved Golden Globe awards and it needs to be seen by as many conscious people as possible I am reposting a review I wrote a few weeks ago.

I found it interesting to say the least that the director of this film is not an American, but a British man with the same name as one of my favorite actors, Steve McQueen. This artist who shows us a glimpse of what slavery was like in the United States in the 19th century, does not tread lightly with our emotions. Watching the movie is like sitting through an intensely passionate roller coaster ride that allows no respite from utter pain, disgust and helplessness.

The movie is based on a biography written by Solomon Northrup in 1853, 8 years before Americans fought each other primarily over an economic system in the south (the Confederate states) that depended on slave labor. Northrup was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery. He wrote about his experience in Louisiana plantations for 12 years until he was freed.

I love movies. I especially like independent films because I believe in great storytelling. In this case, fact is stranger than fiction. Why so? Because I wish the movie was fiction. I wish this didn’t really have to happen. I wish this country was based on equality and justice for all, but it wasn’t. Starting with the massacre of thousands of natives, followed by slavery and basing a whole economy on the back of enslaved human beings.

Northrup and the other slaves have to survive the cruelty, hypocrisy and mental illness of their captors. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie takes place when the slave master holds Sunday church services for the slaves with total disregard with what it means to be a Christian. Surely, How can you reconcile, beating, hanging, torturing, raping, and enslaving human beings with being a good Christian? Or a good anything for that matter?

Another powerful scene that I will never forget and almost led me to scream at the screen to STOP! Involves the sufferable female slave Patsey who gets a relentless whipping for requesting a bar of soap from another slave-owner.

I don’t like to watch violent films, but this violence seemed so real and the worst part of it all, is that this actually happened. This was no mission impossible. This was the real deal.

This movie leaves me with more questions than answers. Why does anyone to this day believe some people are like animals they can own? Slavery is still happening today, and millions are still treated as property. There are 29.8 million people living as slaves right now, according to a comprehensive new report issued by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation and about 60,000 of those are in the United States.

I would like to think humanity is better than this. After watching this movie, I am not so sure. It is very easy for many around the world to justify whatever they want to do (in this case enslaving humans) if it fills their pockets. It is up to us to bring them to justice, to care and to honor those who suffered this inhumanity to man, and still do today.

If you want to grow as a person, become more aware, conscious and compassionate. Go see this film.

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Compromise and Civility are a necessity. To open the government is a victory for all.

Compromise and Civility are a necessity. To open the government is a victory for all.

Posted on 13 October 2013 by Patricia Gras

When we refer to the Washington gridlock, let us not use labels or blame. Let’s embrace people not labels, ideas not ideology, compromise not rigidity and wisdom, not conflict. If we take away the labels of Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party, etc and we give a chance to those in the political parties who are moderate, in the middle, willing to negotiate, and most importantly willing to put their huge egos, their political campaigns, their titles and labels ASIDE then we can break away from this insanity. This is a failure for all involved. No one is winning. No poll can give back to millions their jobs, their clinical trials, their next day meals, their extraordinary national parks.

Should we care how we got here? Or should we change our focus on the solution which is compromise, flexibility, compassion, and an understanding that no matter what happens, our focus should be our nation, our country and all those who fight for it and try to do what’s right. Isn’t what we need a change in consciousness away from our egos and towards our higher ideals and virtues. We can not continue this path of rigidity, ideology, egocentric non sense, where it’s my way or the highway, where every other word by our politicians is an insult, attack or a lie.

Let’s not hear another politician say “the American people want.” They obviously don’t know or care what we want. What they want is to stay in power and what they don’t realize is that the power comes from us. It comes from Americans who want a democracy that works. One that allows men and women to communicate with respect, to find a common ground, to give and take and to COMPROMISE. I would ask each and everyone of those politicians how they have ever managed to have personal relationships. Can you really be with anyone if you don’t compromise sometimes? The reality is that every relationship requires it.

I would also ask every single one of the politicians in Washington right now. What are you willing to give up for our country? Many Americans have died for our democracy, they surely didn’t die for this. . Ultimately, this isn’t about our government, this is about our consciousness as a nation. Is this what we want? Only you can answer that for yourself.

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The Butler, Racism and Living Unnoticed

The Butler, Racism and Living Unnoticed

Posted on 29 August 2013 by Patricia Gras

I don’t usually write movie reviews but when I saw the Butler, I felt I had to share what I had learned about race relations as I was growing up. This movie reminded me of so many injustices that happened in the past and that so many want to quickly dismiss because it makes them uncomfortable.

The Butler traces the life of a white House butler Cecil Gaines who happens to be African American and who served eight American presidents over three decades. As American society is swept away by major events such as the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and the Kennedy assassination, so is the Forest Whitaker character and his family.

The story begins with the character as a child in the cotton fields. He watches helplessly as the white plantation owner rapes his mother and his father is shot simply for asking what happened. As he grows up and learns the art of service, he is chosen to work in the White House for his demeanor, his impeccable service and his apolitical views. That means, the man does well being unnoticed and keeping quiet while he serves, just as the white power establishment prefers it.

His wife, played by Oprah Winfrey seems happy at first but eventually begins to drink for Cecil apparently works too hard, is often absent and will do all that is required to keep his job, including accepting almost half what the white staff gets paid.
His two boys take separate paths. One becomes a militant civil rights advocate and the other joins the service, goes off to Vietnam to serve his country.

The movie is long but I love history and the acting was quite good including all the actors who play the white house staff, the presidents or their wives, but what captured my attention was the human complexity that occurs when dealing with racism. I believe racism is learned. No one is born racist. A baby won’t notice the color of your skin or your religion. It is society or his parents that label others and teach them how to think about others.

In the movie, the presidents all like and possibly love Cecil, and many disapprove with how blacks are treated in America at the time, but they also seem clueless about their intense suffering and struggle until they actually see it on TV. Cecil on the other hand works extremely hard to do the best he can, but he has to remain quiet, unnoticed and dispassionate about what is happening if he is to keep his job. He does what it takes to survive.

Recently we celebrated as a nation, the Reverend Martin Luther King’s March and speech of 1963, which eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Racism is still alive and well in the United States, but we can’t deny we have come a long way.
What changes people’s hearts is the ability to see, feel and touch other people’s suffering. Segregation began ending with laws, but will continue disintegrating with hearts and minds the recognize it is just morally wrong. If many Whites had not marched with Blacks on that day, the march would not have succeeded.
Racism grows in ignorance, separation, stereotypes, arrogance and fear. It can only be destroyed when we learn to walk in other people’s shoes and understand that we are all responsible for justice and that inside of us we all carry the same blood.

I would suggest you see the movie because now someone like Cecil, would have had a different life. He would have had many more opportunities thanks to those who fought for his rights.

I interviewed Cherry Steinwender with the Center for Healing Racism a few years ago. Her lessons on how to heal racism can stand the test of time.

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Que Es El Amor Music Video shot in Houston Texas

Que Es El Amor Music Video shot in Houston Texas

Posted on 11 July 2013 by Patricia Gras

Que Es El amor is a song about breakups, the illusion of love and releasing the blame for the end of a relationship.

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Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams: How to Stop Violence Against Women

Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams: How to Stop Violence Against Women

Posted on 17 February 2013 by Patricia Gras

Nobel Peace Laureate shares what the Nobel Women’s Initiative is conducting a worldwide campaign to stop the increasing sexual violence against women.

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HAHMP Lifetime Achievement Award

HAHMP Lifetime Achievement Award

Posted on 14 November 2012 by Patricia Gras

I would like to thank everyone who played a role in this lifetime achievement award because I certainly did not do it alone. I feel I am still young enough to keep working as if my life just started. I can only request prayers and good vibes for my next career path. I am already very excited for what is to come!

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Childhood Development with Dr. Bruce Perry

Childhood Development with Dr. Bruce Perry

Posted on 14 October 2012 by Patricia Gras

Dr. Bruce Perry shares his knowledge about childhood development and why caring for our children shouldn’t be a choice but a mandate.

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