My letter to Senator Marco Rubio

I was taught in school that our public officials are elected to speak on our behalf. I was taught that our public officials’ jobs are to ensure our voices are heard.

One of the Florida Senators let us down yesterday when he blocked legislation that would have made it more difficult for mentally ill people and those with criminal records to acquire firearms. I’m beyond disgusted.

Writing to my elected officials is nothing new for me. I’ve been writing to Senators and Representatives since I could vote. I ask them to speak up for me, to take my opinions into consideration before they cast their votes. I thank them for casting votes I agree with.

And I blast them when they’ve voted in such a way that disgusts me.

So Senator Rubio will receive an email from me today. Its contents are pasted below. And I truly hope that every American out there who is incensed by the Senate’s shortcomings yesterday does the same and writes to their Senators, as well.

Senator Rubio,

I am gravely disappointed to hear that one of the representatives of the state I now call “home” voted AGAINST requiring additional background checks to purchase guns. No – more than that. I am SICKENED.

I have a now 6-year-old who is ready to enter first grade in the fall, the same grade as those poor children who were massacred in Sandy Hook not even 4 months ago. I’ve held him a little closer every day since then, and I do what I can to ensure he’s in the safest environment possible.

Then to learn that you, who was elected by people who believed–no, TRUSTED–you would do the best thing for our community voted AGAINST background checks for gun purchasers? I am, to say the least, appalled. Don’t get me wrong: I support the Second Amendment. I have nothing against RESPONSIBLE adults purchasing weapons for hunting or collecting or protection.

BUT I SEE NO REASON IT SHOULD BE MORE DIFFICULT FOR ME TO PURCHASE PSEUDOEPHEDRINE FOR A COLD THAN IT IS FOR ME TO PURCHASE A GUN AT A GUN SHOW.

And that, sir, is the rub.

Were there elements of the bill that you disagreed with? Probably, and your PR machine will likely spit something back telling me some convoluted rationale that made your conscience vote against these additional background checks. I don’t want to hear that from you. I want you to visit every child in this state, look them in the eyes, and explain to them what YOU are doing whatever you can to keep them and their loved ones safe. Because you, sir, have not shown that you care about the safety of your constituents.

Shame on you.

I had hope for you as a representative of the Republican Party. I actually spoke up in your favor on a few occasions.

That will not happen again. I may not spout vitriol like others I know because I was taught to treat others as I’d like to be treated. But know that you have a LOT to prove if you wish to ever win my support.

Regards,

E.Caines

What has become of the GOP?

The Republican Party is on its way to becoming a laughingstock.

Ann Coulter was on Fox News talking to Shawn Hannity saying that the Republican Senators should agree to raise taxes on the country’s top .01% earners, and Hannity freaked out. For once, Coulter said something that made sense to me, and Shawn Hannity still argued with her because, possibly from his perspective, she was turning her back on all the Republican morals and “capitulating to Obama”.

And she reminded him that the Republicans lost the election. Clearly, the American people have less faith in many of the Republican leaders who ran for office last month.

Cute Husband was particularly tickled by Senator Reid (of his home state of Kentucky) ultimately filibustering himself because he proposed allowing the President to raise the debt ceiling at will, without Congressional approval. When the Senate Majority leader Senator McConnell suggested putting that proposal up for a vote, Reid ended up filibustering his own proposal.

And yet we’re to believe the Republican argument that the filibuster is not abused in Congress?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself agreeing with some of the more liberal Republicans out there. Hell – I would have voted for John McCain if he didn’t pick (in my opinion) an overzealous loon as his running mate. But they are liberal Republicans: more socially accepting than their hyper conservative brethren but still fiscally conservative.

But what’s happening to the party right now as they jockey in their attempts to reposition themselves to the American public is, for lack of a better word, a train wreck. The hyper conservative voices need to reconsider their words before they speak.

Ann Coulter said it best: “[The Republicans] lost the election.” The American people have spoken, and the GOP’s best chance at regaining any Senate seats and/or retaining their places in the House would be to listen.

Opinion: What I think is wrong with the GOP

In ten words or less, I think the GOP has strayed from their roots.

Let me first just delineate – with bullet points – what I do not want my government to do:

  • Don’t tell me what to believe. Whether or not I believe in God (or multiple Gods, as the case may very well be) is my business. If there really is a hell and you think I’m headed there, don’t try to save me.
  • Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body. Sure, it begins with abortion, but it also includes tattoos, piercings, dying my hair, and/or anything else I want to do. Provided I’m not doing anything that can harm, maim, or kill another cognitive being, let me do what I want. (And if you really want to split hairs and tell me that early fetuses are cognitive beings, well, see the first point above. That’s a whole other discussion.)
  • Don’t tell me who I can and cannot love. I’m lucky. I fell in love with someone who loved me enough in return to marry me. The fact that he happens to be of the opposite sex is irrelevant. If you’re lucky enough to fall in love with someone who loves you back, go for it! Life’s too short to live in fear of recriminations in an afterlife. (Also, see the first point above.)
  • Don’t marginalize me because I’m different. I may not be white or male or a billionaire, but I’m still a person entitled to the same basic rights called out in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The points above represent a complete reversal of what the GOP’s platform used to be. Why do I say that? Let’s take a quick history lesson and review the Grand Old Party, shall we?

In my opinion, the Republican Party of today shares absolutely nothing in common with Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party. Back then, their slogan was “Free Labor, Free Land, Free Men”, and they were the champions of the Little Guys, the poor farmers who couldn’t compete with the rich plantation owners, the slaves who were treated as property instead of people. Back then, they worked hard to keep the government together and were in favor of adding federal laws that chipped away at the individual states’ rights.

They were the party that fought for the Little Guy. I totally would have voted Republican, all the way down the ballot.

After the Civil War, there was a split in the party’s ideology, where one side supported the greed and corruption that was rampant within Ulysses Grant’s presidency, and the other side demanded reforms. They’ve always supported business, but not just Big Business. In the 1890s, the GOP backed the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission, both designed to help small-business owners and independent farmers. Teddy Roosevelt supported laws designed to regulate business, and he promoted the Conservation movement, which Americans can thank for our National Parks.

Meanwhile, the other party remained elitist and exclusionary. Woodrow Wilson, a Southern Democrat, introduced segregation into the Federal government to appease his Southern friends. Jim Crow laws were prevalent throughout the South, and the Republican Party sought to fight these state and local efforts to discourage people, usually blacks, from voting.

The GOP was the Small Business party, and the party for disenfranchised minorities. I totally would have voted for (almost) anyone on their ticket.

Then came the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Teddy’s cousin and a Democrat, secured the “New Deal” in an 2-step effort to get the country’s economy back on track. Republicans were largely on board for the first New Deal, but they criticized the second New Deal, calling it “socialist”. What came out of the second New Deal, though, were laws no one would dream of overturning today, including Social Security and the Fair Labors Standards Act.

Not long after World War II ended, blacks were challenging the notion that segregation was constitutional, and it was ultimately struck down in the Supreme Court in Brown v. The Board of Education in a case ruled unanimously the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor and a Republican president’s appointee. Despite his decision to place Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II, Governor Warren supported the integration of Mexican-American children into white schools in California, and as Chief Justice, he later led the Supreme Court in decisions that outlawed school prayer in public schools (Engel v. Vitale) and revised the First Amendment to include a basic right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut).

And then there was the 1960s, ushering in a young President named John F. Kennedy and an eloquent Baptist minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., both talking about freedom, liberty, and equality for all.  It’s quite possible the tide began to shift before the 1960s, but this was when the GOP most notably began shying away from the ideals that it had when it was formed. It was no longer the party that opposed corruption and aristocracy; it became the party that some would arguably say defined it. Nixon’s Watergate scandal was synonymous with corruption; Reagan’s economic policies favored the rich, and the Bush presidents exemplified the Political Aristocracy.

The Tea Party faction seems to have come about as a means to cancel out the accusations of corruption, but their grassroots organizations promoted efforts to make the voting process more difficult, especially the poorer, marginalized Americans. Their elected officials use the political stage as a kind of pulpit, speaking out against things they consider immoral and “against God’s will.” I have nothing against religion; I was raised Catholic. But just because I believe something doesn’t mean that everyone else needs to, also. One of the greatest tenets of our Constitution is the freedom of religion, and the Founding Fathers considered that important enough to make it the very first law of our Constitution.

And yet, the rest of the Republican Party does nothing to keep the Tea Partiers in line. Rather, they seem afraid of them.

I fear for the future of the Republican Party. There are lots of good men and women who align themselves with the GOP, and there are lots of bad people who align themselves with the Democratic Party. But the Republican Party has presented itself as an exclusionary party, like the group of snobby popular kids in school who wouldn’t invite you to a party unless you were wearing the right clothes, drove the right car, and/or could get front row tickets to any concert at a moment’s notice.

Newsflash: There were always way more kids like me than there were kids like those, and there always will be.

So, to the Grand Old Party, you’ve got two years to sit in a corner and think about what you’ve become before the next mid-term election. Unless you want to lose more seats in the Senate and lose control of the House, I seriously recommend you consider retooling your position. You may also want to muzzle some of the Tea Partiers to make sure they don’t say anything that can and will be used against your party in the future, or you could consider asking them to leave your party and create one of their own. Since they seem so intent on dialing back the clock to the 1950s, perhaps they can dial it back further to the 1860s. And I would recommend enacting laws that benefit people instead of corporations because, although corporations can donate as much money as they’d like to your campaign coffers, they can’t vote.

And there are still more people like me out there than there are corporations.

Early voting in Florida

I live in one of the crucial swing states, and as such, I know it’s critical that I make my voice heard this election year. I’ve read the transcripts of each party’s nomination’s convention speeches. I’ve watched the debates and gone back to read the transcripts. I’ve read about the proposed amendments to the state constitution, studied the records of the Senatorial candidates, and did everything I could to educate myself on all the issues.

And now I’ve done my civic duty by filling out the ballot and submitting it. The polls opened at 7 this morning; The Boy and I arrived around 8:45 and still found ourselves behind a line to check in. By the time we finished, there was a much longer line of people waiting to cast their votes.

This election means a lot to me. Cute Husband and I are among the fortunate ones. We’re doing just fine; about the same as things were four years ago. I don’t think the government (federal or otherwise) has had anything to do with that, though. Plus, both of our employers are multinational organizations, so what happens abroad is just as important as what happens domestically.

There is a lot at stake, just as there is in every election. And as I explained to The Boy, it’s important for everyone to vote so they can make their voices heard. No, you won’t go to jail if you don’t vote (The Boy asked me that this morning), but it doesn’t make it any less important.

The “War on Women” is NOT against Stay-at-Home Moms

I’m hearing a political ad a lot on Pandora, which is usually just annoying, but this particular ad really upsets me. And I don’t stand up on my soap box very often, mainly because I think everyone is entitled to their own opinions and generally have no desire to shout mine from the rooftops, but this particular ad incenses me.

A few weeks ago, Ann Romney, the wife of the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, was blasted by Democratic National Committee strategist Hilary Rosen for never having worked. The reality is that Ann Romney was (is?) a stay-at-home mom and raised 5 boys.

Now, I have one child and, yes, being a mother to just the one is hard work. I don’t dispute that. But I also work a full-time job and volunteer at The Boy’s school (often taking vacation days to do so) fairly frequently. (So frequently, in fact, that the mom of one of The Boy’s classmates noted, with some surprise as her son gave me a big hug, that all the kids seem to know me.) I stayed up with him during those earliest days, weathered (and survived) countless nights of teething fits, changed too many poopy diapers to count, and did everything else that goes with being a mother, all in addition to showing up at the office to do my (monetarily paid) job there.

Does that make me a better mom than Ann Romney? Does the fact that Ann Romney stayed home make her a better mom than me? Does it mean that one of us worked harder than the other?

Absolutely not, to all three counts.

Big Sis E is a stay-at-home mom. She’s raising my two nieces, shuttles everyone to their activities, maintains her household’s crazy schedules, keeps her (much larger than my) home spotless and running seamlessly, volunteers for multiple committees, and is insanely busy. And after spending a week witnessing her frenetic life, I wouldn’t trade places with her for all the money in the world.

But it still doesn’t mean she’s a better mom than I am, or that I’m a better mom than she is. We both just do the best we can with what we’ve got.

Here’s the bottom line: Ann Romney never earned a paycheck once she became a mother. It wasn’t because she wasn’t capable; it was because she didn’t have to. She had the luxury that many women don’t: the luxury of being married to a high-earner who could financially support the entire family. Was it hard work? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone would dispute that.

But this political ad, sponsored by a joke of a group called Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, doesn’t paint that entire picture. Instead, it relies on a single sound bite to make it sound as though the entire Democratic Party has something against stay-at-home moms. That’s not the case at all. The argument was based on the fact that certain benefits – for mothers, in particular – are on the line. Mothers with young children who are unable to afford adequate daycare would no longer be eligible for welfare programs because they would be expected to work. (And by “work”, they don’t mean raising your children. That only counts as work if you’re a stay-at-home mom by choice.) But if you can’t afford daycare, then you can’t earn a paycheck.

You know who’s really up in arms about the Ann Romney comment? Stay-at-home moms with husbands who are able to financially support the entire family and unwilling and/or unable to understand what life may be like for women on the other side of the tracks. So, really, Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee really ought to change their name to Concerned Wealthy Women for America Legislative Action Committee. Or better yet, Concerned Spouses of Wealthy Husbands for America Legislative Action Committee.

Because if you were really concerned about how all women – both rich and poor – were being treated, you’d listen to more than just the soundbites and think of more than just yourself.

Oh, and PS – If you’re really into soundbites and don’t have time for much more, here’s one from Ann Romney herself at an event earlier this week in Connecticut:

“I love the fact that there are also women out there that don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids.”

Yes, because we paycheck moms are really just a funny little novelty.

The not-so-invisible Education Gap

Last night at dinner, as we do every night, Cute Husband and I asked The Boy what he did at school that day.

“I helped Mr. C,” The Boy replied. “And I made a kite.”

“Were you able to do some lessons with the other VPK kids?” I asked.

“They don’t have lessons,” he corrected me. “They have toys.”

Cute Husband and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything.

“I’m really glad we decided to send The Boy to his new school,” I told Cute Husband this morning.

“I can’t imagine they don’t have some sort of curriculum,” he replied. “I mean, this is a pre-kindergarten program. Maybe day care just doesn’t have the same kinds of things they have at school.”

Once we got to the day care parking lot this morning, The Boy echoed the chorus he’d repeated yesterday and the day before.

“Mom, I really don’t want to go to my old school.”

“Honey, we’ve talked about this every day,” I said, trying to reassure him. “It’s only for the week.”

“I know, but I don’t like it here.”

“Why not?”

He sighed loudly. “Everything’s too easy,” he replied. “They don’t give me any challenging work.”

Now, I know I have an intelligent child. Really, I think all children are intelligent; some are just given more opportunities to explore different subject matter. So I disagree that I have an exceptionally gifted child. He’s inquisitive, he’s observant, and he’s interested in myriad things. Aren’t all kids?

It bothers me a bit, though, when we have these conversations. There was a brief time when Cute Husband and I contemplated letting him stay at this day care facility to attend voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK). Private school is, after all, not cheap, and his day care did a fine job teaching him various skills while he was there. But we could tell at the age of 3 that he was able to do and explore much more than day care allowed, and that’s what ultimately swayed our decision.

I’m glad we chose to send him to his current school, and I’m even more thrilled that he’s thriving there. But it makes me a little sad knowing that we had to research private school programs in order to give him the challenging environment he craves so much. And it bothers me even more to know that so many families, whose children are probably just as “gifted” (I hate that word) as The Boy (though perhaps in other areas) aren’t able to do the same.

I read last month that the achievement gap between rich and poor kids actually starts in kindergarten, and after these last few days of having The Boy complain about how bored he is in the VPK program at his old school, I can see it.

The gap is really out there, and it starts early.

Wishlist Wednesday: The New iPad

Okay, like this isn’t a no-brainer.

Apple released info on the New iPad, going on sale on March 17 and boasting a Retina display. (That’s what I’m excited about.) And, yes, I want one.

It’s also going to be a 4G-compatible product, blah blah blah, which only means something if you don’t think Wi-Fi is sufficient. For me, I don’t do a whole lot in areas that don’t have Wi-Fi. I can connect to Wi-Fi at home, at work, at most of my friends’ homes (where I probably shouldn’t be on my iPad, anyway), and most of the hotels I would visit have Wi-Fi available.

See? I really don’t have need of a 4G subscription, let alone a 4G device.

Anyway, the real reason I’m salivating over this is that I’ve recently discovered all these children’s books for the Kindle that are occasionally free on Amazon. And that means I can have The Boy reading on an iPad (in color) instead of lugging books to and fro. (Not that I do that presently, but he also is still in the early stages of reading.)

So today’s Wishlist Wednesday is really a no-brainer. I’m already salivating over the prospect of having one.

The Boy’s birthday is coming up. I may have to get myself a present. I mean, I did all the work; I deserve something, right?

BPA is not our friend

When The Boy was a baby, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find BPA-free bottles. I wasn’t entirely certain why I wanted bottles that were BPA-free; I just knew that the chemical had been in the news quite a bit and undergoing quite a few tests.

It wasn’t long after The Boy started eating solids that I discovered that BPA was in all of our canned goods, too. I made most of The Boy’s food, but I did find it easier to open a can of peas and strain them than to cook peas myself. Needless to say, once I learned that fact about BPA in canned foods, The Boy didn’t get peas again until he was older.

Next to go were the canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes, it turns out, have the highest concentration of BPA because the tomatoes themselves leech the chemical from the can’s lining. (Yikes!) After some research, I switched to Pomi tomatoes in tetra packs. The packaging is BPA-free and I like to have shelf stable tomatoes on hand, so I was pleased that my local grocery store carried this. Yes, it’s a bit pricier, but I’d rather remain BPA-free.

My pantry’s content migration to tetra packs from cans was well underway. I even switched to tetra-packed tuna. Yes, I was going to make this work.

Late last year, the results of another study were released, indicating that people who ate canned soup every day for a week had higher levels of BPA in their systems than those who ate “fresh soup” (though I’m not clear what, exactly, that means). All the same, it was disturbing, and, once again, I began buying soup in tetra packs instead of cans. Again, the tetra packs are more expensive, but they’re BPA-free, and that puts me at ease.

Somewhat.

Well, today I read that BPA is in our receipts – those annoying pieces of paper that we seem forced to receive from different merchants. Wendy’s even tucks the receipt into your bag when you go through the drive-through (though, really, I know I shouldn’t be eating anything from Wendy’s in the first place). This doesn’t sound like it should be a big deal except BPA can get onto our hands and into our systems that way. And even if you wash your hands before you eat, there’s a chance there may be some BPA in those recycled towels you’re using to dry your hands.

It’s enough to make my head spin.

So what does all of this mean? Why should I care about BPA? I mean, it’s not like any studies have pinpointed what kind of damage BPA can do to our system; only that it’s not good.

Well, all that changed when I read that a new study suggests obesity and diabetes may be linked to the ingestion of BPA. Apparently, there is some evidence that BPA can scramble hormone receptors, even doubling the amount of insulin the body needs to break down food.

It makes sense, right? Increased use of BPA worldwide; global increase in diabetes cases over the same time period. BPA may not be the singular cause of the increase in obesity and diabetes, but it does give one pause.

And it’s not new news. Apparently, a 2008 study by the American Medical Association indicated that adults with higher BPA in their systems had higher risks for heart disease and diabetes. But, of course, the American Chemistry Council refutes this.

So, how long does BPA stay in the body? I mean, is it too late for me to reverse the damage I’ve inadvertently done to my little boy by feeding him canned peas?

Well, no one really knows. But the National Resources Defense Council released a report indicating that freshly prepared meals stored in glass or stainless steel containers (and not microwaved in plastic containers) would significantly reduce the levels of BPA in the body. So it appears there’s hope.

But now it looks like it’s time to completely switch to fresh (or frozen) veggies and ditch the plastic containers. And I supposed I should stick with dried legumes, too.

It’s a sad sign of the times when simply buying food is a complicated endeavor.

Opening tomorrow: Legoland Florida

Photo by Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel. Click on the photo for more images of the new Legoland Florida park.

The Boy is so excited about Legoland Florida opening tomorrow. Wednesday night at dinner, Cute Husband and The Boy were watching a video at the dinner table (hey – it keeps them both occupied), and when Legoland Florida’s opening day was mentioned, Cute Husband said The Boy’s ears perked.

“That’s soon!” The Boy told him. (The Boy, incidentally, seems to have mastered the calendar. He not only knows his days of the week and months of the year (mostly; he hasn’t quite mastered the order yet), he knows the actual calendar date. Most adults I work with don’t even know the actual calendar date.

Anyway, we won’t be going during opening weekend. And we probably won’t be going next weekend, either, when Legoland is offering free admission. It’s not because we’re not interested (clearly the boy would love to go), but the Caines Family schedule gets crazy in October and typically doesn’t let up until sometime in January.

That’s not to say that we won’t be there until after the holidays (Cute Husband and I would both like to go, too), but, well, we definitely aren’t going to be the first in line tomorrow at rope drop. It is what it is.

Anyway, with all of the press about Legoland Florida’s opening, I was really interested to see that Legoland Florida’s food is locally sourced and will reflect seasonal items. As a mom who frequently visits theme parks, that’s a really big deal for me. I mean, when we go to Epcot, I like visiting Seasons at The Land because I love the variety of fresh (read: minimally processed) food. If this is standard fare at Legoland Florida, I won’t feel as bad packing a lighter backpack and leaving snacks at home.

I’m curious to see how Legoland Florida will fare. I had never been to Cypress Gardens (Florida’s first amusement park and the site at which Legoland Florida was built) and I’ve never been to Legoland California, but I’m definitely interested. It’s being billed as a local attraction, so its hours aren’t as long as Disney World’s or Universal Studios Florida’s, especially not during the Fall and Winter months.

All the same, I’m hoping it does well. It would be nice to add another destination to the repertoire of fun things we do with The Boy.

We just won’t do it on opening weekend.

Taxing the fat

Obesity and its related diseases (like heart disease and diabetes) are growing increasingly problematic, and not just in the United States. Childhood obesity, in particular, scares me, and I monitor what The Boy eats very carefully. It’s not to say that he doesn’t indulge in potato chips or candy from time to time, but I’m delighted when he munches on frozen grapes or opts for string cheese over a cupcake (and will openly praise him for making such a choice).

This morning, one of my European cousins shared an article about Denmark’s new taxes on fatty products, and I think it’s an interesting (and bold) move. I think the tax on butter may be a bit much; butter is, after all, a much healthier kind of fat than margarine or most oils (I mean, just look at the labels). But taxing junk food would certainly give someone pause before they reach for that super size bag of Ruffles the next time they’re at the grocery store.

The article says that retailers would pay the tax as they purchase from wholesalers, which means that the retailers would likely pass the increases on to the consumer. But if the United States were to follow suit, I don’t think it should stop there. Fast food restaurants (and even table service establishments) should have to pay the tax, too. And then that tax money could be used to pay for healthcare initiatives.

I’m curious to see how this plays out in Europe, and I wonder if it will ever make its way over the pond.