An Open Letter to Mike Pence on ‘Life’ and Universal Health Care

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Photo courtesy of Sage Ross via Flickr

NOTE: After working in healthcare communications for eight years, this is a subject I felt compelled to write about publicly in light of recent political developments. I’d initially written this letter in January, but refrained from publishing it because of my career. The time has come to speak out, however, so I feel the need to publish this disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post, and on this blog as a whole, are my own and do not represent any other person, business, or entity.  

An Open Letter to Mike Pence on ‘Life’ and Universal Health Care

Dear Vice-President Mike Pence,

I read your quote from the March for Life event on Jan. 27 this year in an article from The Atlantic, “We will not rest until we restore a culture of life in America.”

I’m glad to hear you say that, because this opens the door to let Congress know we want health care for all.

Even after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, 29 million Americans went without health insurance in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2015” report. This means nearly 30 million people could not access or afford treatment for conditions ranging from a sinus infection, to a heart attack.

Before the ACA, however, it was much worse. In 2008—during the days of pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps—nearly 16 percent of the U.S. population went uninsured, compared to only 9.1 percent in 2015 (source: U.S. Census Bureau).

If we’re going to talk about restoring a culture of life, let’s start with this, because many people are forced to choose between paying for their food or paying for their medicine. I’m one of them, having agonized over whether to visit the emergency room and risk bankruptcy, or stay home in a potentially life-threatening situation.

In one case, while I was studying journalism in college, my father—a music teacher—could no longer afford to keep me on his health insurance. Before I could find another plan, I became sick with mononucleosis and needed treatment. Yet, no doctor or clinic would see me because I didn’t have insurance. At the same time, insurance refused to cover me because of my pre-existing condition.

More recently, a family member—who would prefer to remain anonymous—may be forced to leave retirement simply for employer health benefits. She is a retired teacher and a type 2 diabetic who receives her health insurance through the Federal Exchange. However, with Congress’s plans to repeal the ACA, she’ll be forced to work full-time because she can’t afford the state’s $600-per-month premium and she’s too young for Medicare. Once the ACA is gone, she will have a “pre-existing condition” once again.

You see, Vice-President Pence, in my world, life matters too, which is why health care is a right and not a privilege. I hear politicians preaching their morals time and time again, but their actions do not reflect their words. I’m going to make it easy.

The time has come to get serious about a universal or single-payer system that leverages public-private partnerships. This will ensure cost control of sky-rocketing drug prices, allow practitioners to concentrate on treating and healing patients, and still offer businesses opportunities in the private sector. France demonstrates an exemplary standard of this model, so much that the World Health Organization ranked them as number one in the world for health systems.

I’ve worked in journalism, media and communications for more than 10 years, of which eight were spent in healthcare communications. I have seen this issue from all sides and am confident when I say, this proposal could be a real solution.

I am ready to help restore a culture of life in America, Vice-President Pence. The question is, are you?

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How Entering the Obama Era from Israel Helps Me Come to Terms with Trump

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I wrote this narrative/op-ed on Jan. 20, 2017–the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated. I submitted it to a couple of publications, but it was never accepted fast enough to be timely. I hate to see it go to waste, and therefore decided to publish it here. I thought some of you might enjoy the read or perhaps find it insightful.

How Entering the Obama Era from Israel Helps Me Come to Terms with Trump

Written by Shari Lopatin on Jan. 20, 2017

Eight years ago today, I sat crammed into a tiny Tel Aviv hotel lobby with 30 Jews who were strangers days before, and together, we watched Barack Obama become the President of the United States of America.

When we boarded our El Al flight to Israel about a week prior for our Birthright trip, we’d left our country still swimming in the Bush era. I was the only Jew from Arizona and felt nervous at first, knowing not a name in our group. But after riding camels through the desert and sleeping in Bedouin tents scattered throughout the Negev together, we’d become like family, and I watched alongside these newfound friends 6,700 miles away as our country’s tides changed on Jan. 20, 2009.

I come from a state that leans conservative and Christian. I’d never been surrounded by others who believed as I do, or voted as I do, or survived anti-Semitism like I had. It not only felt safe to cheer as I watched Obama take his oath of office, but electric and freeing, like the adrenaline of a raging river or, as one of my travelmates said, “winning the World Series.”

For us, this was our first political victory. When I’d cast my virgin ballot at age 18, the year was 2000 and George W. Bush had won. Then, 9/11 rocked our nation and although I’d supported our involvement in Afghanistan, I’d protested Iraq from the beginning. Somewhere deep in my bones, I knew this war would change the future of the U.S. and the world.

The taste of triumph, I’ve learned, has a sweet but perilous flavor. I was young and hopeful when Barack Obama took office, and over the coming years, I flourished. The Affordable Care Act—known to many as Obamacare—granted me freedom to leave a full-time job and afford an individual health plan while I started a business. The tax credit for first-time homebuyers in 2009 allowed me the financial flexibility to buy my first house.

Under Obama, I became Middle Class America. I prospered. And I’m dang thankful for it.

But as I said, the taste of triumph has a sweet, yet perilous flavor. I grew used to winning, and in my elation, became numb to the fury developing in the underbelly of our country. Not everyone moved forward like I did, and in their anger, many turned to a man who manipulates emotion to gain power.

Today, that man stands in the spot Obama did as I watched from a boxed television set in Israel, and I find myself feeling alone again. In my despair, I close my eyes and like a wind funnel sucking me through time, I fall into that scrunched Tel Aviv hotel lobby eight years ago, surrounded by rejuvenation and faith and acceptance.

That moment, though fleeting, will survive through eternity in all of us, and I tell myself—even as we enter an era of uncertainty and darkness—Yes We Can.

Shari Lopatin is a writer, journalist and storyteller with more than 10 years in media and communication. She writes both fiction and non-fiction and prefers to concentrate on the micro and macro effects of social issues.

Martin Shkreli Looks Like a Sith Lord in this AP Photo

I first saw it on my Facebook feed today from a New York Times article. And I couldn’t help but notice, Martin Shkreli kinda looks like a Sith Lord in this Associated Press photo … doesn’t he?

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And considering today is the first FULL day that Star Wars is open in theaters, I call this #winning for the AP!

Enough About Donald Trump, What About Burundi?

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Rwandan refugee camp in east Zaire, 1993 (courtesy of CDC)

I get it: Donald Trump is the leading front-runner in the Republican primary who spouts off whatever comes to mind and is a former reality T.V. star.

But amidst the American media’s love affair with Trump, other important world issues are being overlooked. Lately, I’ve been seeing articles pop up about potential genocide in Burundi.

Doesn’t Burundi deserve our attention, too?

According to a Dec. 15 article in the Washington Post, the violence has forced more than 220,000 Burundians to flee their homes.

Reflections of Rwanda

Burundi’s population is split primarily between Hutu (80 percent) and Tutsi (19 percent). For anyone that knows their history, they’ll recall the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994, where more than 800,000 people were slaughtered (thanks for the actual number, Baltimore Sun).

Remember the movie, “Hotel Rwanda?” Yeah folks, that could happen again.

Yet every time I open my Facebook news feed, all I see is “Trump this” and “Trump that.” Meanwhile, Burundians are screaming for the major world powers to pay attention to their country.

I have a friend who survived the Bosnian genocide that started in 1992 and she can tell you it took years before the world intervened. Meanwhile, she lost close family members and friends.

Time to Switch Our Focus?

Of course we need to watch what Trump says and speak out if we disagree, but should our media be giving the man so much attention, that other world events—like potential genocide—aren’t being reported with the same vigor?

I’m a former journalist and I’m asking you: what the heck happened to my beloved profession?

How Inflammatory Language Brought Us to the Age of Mass Shootings

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SWAT team members approach a building with a gunman inside. Thirteen people were killed and 30 more wounded in an attack by a lone gunman at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 (courtesy Wikipedia).

First Planned Parenthood, then today: San Bernardino, Calif.

Both are medical clinics. Both are supposed to be safe places … kinda like schools (anyone remember Sandy Hook)?

According to CNN, president Barack Obama said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

Regardless of what you think of our president politically, you have to admit: HE’S RIGHT.

How Did We Get Here?

I was in high school when Columbine happened on April 20, 1999. The massacre shocked the world because things like that just didn’t happen. Since then, mass shootings have begun increasing in frequency, until today, they’ve become commonplace.

So how did we get here?

Some say we need more gun control. Others say we need better access to mental health care. Personally, I think it’s a combination of both … but everyone seems to be leaving out one very important factor.

This is a sociological problem, not an individual one, which means a sickness has somehow pervaded our society. 

What’s the one thing that’s changed from 1999 until now? SOCIAL MEDIA.

The Age of Propaganda and Inflammatory Language

Now, I’m not blaming social media. In fact, I’ve worked in it for a living.

However, social media gives people, institutions, political parties and special interests an unfiltered platform to broadcast their thoughts and ideas.

You know those Facebook memes that people love to share that instigate endless political debates on comment threads? They’re developed by groups with certain agendas to garner engagement and prompt action by plugging into people’s emotions.

You know what that’s called? PROPAGANDA.

Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Kim Jong-un still uses it. Propaganda is powerful because it plays into people’s emotions and fears. Even the most educated can become susceptible to it.

In the age of social media and content marketing, propaganda is running rampant in our country. It’s causing the best of us to scream at each other and it’s making our society angry.

As angry individuals, we insult others behind the blanket of “freedom of speech.” We say whatever we want because “we have that right.” We develop a sense of persecution, which leads to an “us versus them” mentality. “Them” always end up less human than “Us.”

How Do We Fix It?

We need to begin using our words responsibly again. I’m a journalist; I’m all about the First Amendment. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And words can kill.

We also need to hold media outlets, political institutions and special interest pages accountable when using inflammatory language. Don’t watch them. Don’t share their memes. Don’t comment. JUST DON’T ENGAGE.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are your thoughts on the increasing mass shootings in the U.S.? Do you agree with my conclusion?

Rolling Stone, Rape, and Journalism

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It started off innocent enough. A female college student. An alleged gang rape. A magazine journalist trying to do the right thing.

I didn’t read Rolling Stone’s article, “A Rape on Campus,” about an alleged gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia frat house. But for the sake of this commentary, I didn’t have to read it.

All I read was Rolling Stone’s “Note to Our Readers” published on Dec. 5, 2014 — and that was enough.

The note, published by Managing Editor Will Dana, admits Rolling Stone’s failure to properly investigate and verify the woman’s story. It reads, “due to the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man who she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men who she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her.”

Understandable, right? Maybe for that small, weekly community newspaper, where circulation doesn’t exceed 22,000 and most of its reporting staff are interns or rookies out of college. But for freakin’ Rolling Stone Magazine, which churned out an article generating worldwide headlines and prompting a university investigation … ummm, no.

Here’s the problem with Rolling Stone’s decision.

They let the first rule of good, hard, ethical journalism slide: objectiveness. Which means checking both sides, regardless of your thoughts on the issue’s sensitivity. If your source is a Deep Throat, then you verify facts elsewhere.

This seems cold, but folks, the consequences of failing to conduct yourself in this manner, as a professional journalist, could be far colder … like what happened with Rolling Stone.

Recent reports from The Washington Post and other news outlets have since surfaced, showing “there now appear(s) to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account,” according to Rolling Stone’s note to readers.

Now, is it possible Jackie was sexually assaulted or even raped? Of course. But due to Rolling Stone’s failure to remain objective, and thoroughly verify her account, the magazine just created a greater boundary for any rape victim to cross when convincing the authorities of an attack.

Perhaps, Rolling Stone should have just stuck to its journalistic guns the first time, and refused to run Jackie’s story unless its reporters could contact the alleged attackers.

And I’m talking from experience.

Eight years ago, when I worked as a newspaper reporter covering education, a group of three girls approached me from a local college. They accused the college of covering up sexual harassment, and sometimes even assault, on a regular basis.

Of course, I took this very seriously, and started looking to interview more sources. However, no one would go on record. Since no one reported anything to police, I couldn’t verify crime reports. Eventually, I told the girls if they refused to cooperate and go on record, no story. They didn’t, and therefore, nothing ever ran.

Which brings to light something else: is this mistake by Rolling Stone representative of what’s happening everywhere to good journalism?

With the rise of social media and the blogosphere, I have seen the decline of traditional journalistic ethics in lieu of special interests and editorialized rants. This isn’t everywhere … yet. But what happens when the lines between propaganda and journalism are blurred? What happens when we can no longer trust that our sources of news are objective, allowing us to decide for ourselves?

Rolling Stone should have never made the decision it did, regardless of its editors’ and/or reporters’ views on the sensitive nature of rape. By giving in to their subjectivity, they negated objectivity, and only further tainted the very issue they were trying to protect.

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Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, journalist, and social media strategist who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. She recently finished her first novel and blogs about the lessons she learns while finding a literary agent, among other topics (like this post). Want to follow Shari’s progress toward a book deal? Then join The Readers Club! Sign up here.

It Snowed in Phoenix! And How to Pitch Magazine Editors

What’s that about global warming again? Oh, right … it freakin’ snowed IN THE DESERT yesterday!

I live in Phoenix, Ariz., and it actually snowed here. Seriously. I borrowed some Facebook images from our local news stations to prove it:

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[Source: 93.3 KDKB Facebook page]
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[Source: KBAQ Facebook page]
And because I have nothing else to say, I’m re-publishing a VERY old blog post, before anyone even knew I existed (on the social Web). I used to write about professional stuff … really!

So, if you’re a writer, or PR person, maybe these tips will offer something useful. Imagine that!

Enticing Magazine Editors and Media–Successfully Pitch Your Story!

Whether you’re a PR professional selling your company’s story, or a freelancer enticing a magazine editor, understanding how to pitch well is vital.

I’ve enjoyed success as a journalist and media relations professional for a reason:

1. Keep your pitches to five sentences or less.  

As a freelancer trying to get published in a magazine, I received my best advice from a senior editor at TIME Magazine. Here it is:

Keep your initial pitch to one paragraph (I suggest five sentences, tops). 

  • If you’re a freelancer, follow-up with a brief description about your experience (places you’ve been published, years of experience), as well as why YOU should write this story.
  • Cut and paste any additional material, such as a news release, into the email body after your pitch. As a backup, attach the document.

I’ll never forget the editor’s words from TIME, “We are too busy to open any attachments. If it’s not in the email body, we won’t see it.”

2. Forget sounding fancy. Cut to the chase: the five W’s.

As a newspaper reporter, the best way to entice me to DELETE your email, was by developing a fancy first sentence. I only cared about the WHAT of your story—so I could decide immediately if it was newsworthy.

  • My number one tip from my last post on writing engaging content was to keep your article lead less than 30 words. Apply that rule to any story pitch.
  • You will lose the reporter’s/editor’s/producer’s attention if don’t tell them upfront the Who, What, When, Where and Why.

3. Make it relevant!

Is your story timely? Localized? Who’s the audience? TIME Magazine would rather publish a national trends article, whereas Phoenix Magazine (from Arizona) would seek a feature on a high school coach who’s changed the school’s morale.

Regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or PR professional, do your research.

  • If you live in California, but are pitching in Connecticut, run a Google Maps and get an idea of the geography.
  • Read through your target publication to understand its style before pitching (hint hint: you can work that style and relevance into your pitch).

4. Follow up via phone in two to three days–not the same day.

Most editors will get hundreds of emails a day, maybe more. IF they read your pitch, it won’t be the same day you sent it, so give them time. When you call a few days later, start with this:

“Hi ____, my name is _______ and I’m a freelance reporter from ______ following up on a story I emailed you a day or two ago.”  Then immediately launch into your story idea. Most likely, if they haven’t seen your email, now they’ll open it.

Above all else, never forget the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? Always put yourself in the editor’s shoes and ask, “Why would I publish this story?”

Whatever the answer is … that will be your news hook.

It’s Raining Spiders … and Stuff

Ladies and gentlemen, it has rained spiders in Brazil. Yes … spiders. Rained. IN BRAZIL.

The land which gave birth to Zumba has now become Stephen King’s official playground. And you can thank the “social spider,” a group of arthropods working together to form a giant web to catch their prey.

Now that’s socialism, folks.

 

Thank you to 12 News in Phoenix, Ariz. for originally informing me of this (intriguing? terrifying?) phenomenon.

[… Shudder …]

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AND IN OTHER NEWS:

**I officially ended the world’s longest eyelash debacle on Sunday. Not sure how this happened, but I wound up with an eyelash stuck in my eye for a MONTH. A month, people. Do you have any freakin’ clue what it’s like to wake up every morning to an eyelash jabbing its way into your cornea, with NO recourse? I poked, I stabbed, I rubbed; yet that dang thing would not budge. For this alone, I think I deserve a spot in the “Guinness Book of World Records.”

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**The Black Keys won three Grammys. The Black Keys are seriously the coolest musicians EVER (except for my dad, of course).  I saw them, LIVE, with my sister, back in October, and they tore it up. And last night, they won THREE GRAMMYS, which means my El Camino ticket stub is now worth some mula. $$$$ 🙂 (Not that I’m selling it … suckers!)

**Java jam. That’s it, people. Jam made from espresso. A piece of Heaven really does exist here on earth. I may now die in peace.

**My cat peed on his own this morning. VICTORY!

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5 Reasons the World is Ending: No More Saturday Mail!

It’s over! It’s all freakin’ over. I always said when the mail stops coming on Saturdays, the world is ending.

And on Wednesday, the Post Office announced it: no more Saturday mail.

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I want to thank the Arizona Republic and the Associated Press for publishing the story and letting me know I can now begin preparations to DIE. Just as long as I don’t decompose under a parking lot, like poor King Richard III.

Not that I believe in “The Book of Revelation” (in fact, I’m Jewish), but I’m sure if you dig deep enough—somewhere within its dark pages of death and destruction—you’ll find something about the mail ceasing to deliver on Saturdays.

I am convinced we are only months away from the REAL Armageddon.

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And here are 5 reasons why:

  1. We are running out of IP addresses. Don’t believe me? Go take a class in Cisco networking. You think the wars over cinnamon were bad (yes, empires actually rose and fell over cinnamon)? Just wait until no one else can log onto the Internet.
  2. Stars Wars married Mickey Mouse. If George Lucas no longer retains the right to sue you for using the word “lightsaber,” I think we’ve reached a whole new dimension in history. Hopefully, Disney isn’t as bad … but maybe I should call my lawyer, just in case?
  3. Twinkies joined the dinosaurs.  Ever seen the movie, “Zombieland,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson? If you haven’t, you need to know only two things: Zombie Apocalypse and extinction of the Twinkies.
  4. Guns now shoot lightning bolts. Yes! You can thank the United States Army for this. We now have LASER GUNS that can shoot freakin’ LIGHTNING BOLTS (thanks WIRED Magazine). Dying isn’t good enough; we need to rip our enemies’ electrons from their surrounding air molecules, first.
  5. NO MORE SATURDAY MAIL. Really … need I say more???