Commentary #109: Thoughts on “13th”

Image Credit: The Maine Campus

As part of my continuing education on Black Lives Matter and becoming a better ally, I wanted to sit down and watch this documentary on Netflix.

Immediately after finishing it, I wanted to watch it again. I was overwhelmed, horrified, and angry.


Ava DuVernay is a master. The interviews that were conducted spanned from activists, to authors, to former Presidents!


Saturday, July 25th

I need to write more after I watch it again tomorrow. More to come. Thanks for reading!


Update – Monday, July 27th

I sat down and watched this again yesterday. I had my phone out and took proper notes this time. Keep in mind – This was originally released in 2016.

The United States makes up five percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

The documentary is very much a timeline from the Civil War through 2016. One of the key points was D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) film. The burning cross symbol was created by Griffith, not the KKK, because Griffith thought it was a good cinematic image.

The Nixon era (1968-1974) was the beginning of the “War on Drugs.” Nixon took drug addiction and drug dependency and made it a crime issue, rather than a health issue. I also learned a lot about the Southern Strategy – Taking Democrats on multiple southern states and leading them to the Republication Party.

The Reagan era (1981-1988) was the modern war on drugs. Nancy Reagan embarked upon the “Just Say No” campaign. Crack cocaine came on the scene – It was in small doses, and cheaper than powdered cocaine. Mandatory sentencing penalties were enacted that were harsher for crack cocaine. Black communities were virtually decimated – Men started disappearing from the homes and neighborhoods overnight and not coming back for years because of getting arrested and convicted for possessing crack cocaine. At this point, economic inequality, hyper-segregation, and drug abuse were all criminalized. It turned into a war on communities of color. Black people have been (are still are) over-represented in the news media as criminals. The “super-predator” label was thrown around constantly. Black parents ended up, inadvertently, supporting policies that were criminalizing their own children. The Central Park Jogger case in New York City was absolutely awful.

The George H.W. Bush era (1988-1993) was affected during the campaign for President. The Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis was holding a commanding lead, until Willie Horton was let out of prison on a weekend pass, and went on a horrific crime spree that included kidnapping, assault, rape, and murder. The Bush campaign used Horton’s story as part of a campaign ad on crime.

The Clinton era (1993-2001) sent a strong message of “Democrats are not soft on crime.” More police were put on the street, federal funding for law enforcement was upwards of $100 million dollars. Polly Klaas was murdered. The massive 1994 crime bill ($30 billion dollars) included the “three strikes law” – Three felonies and you’re put in prison for the rest of your life, mandatory minimums for sentencing, truth in sentencing where prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, parole was virtually abolished. This led to a massive expansion of the American criminal justice system, including prisons and law enforcement. Even the smallest police forces were militarized with military-grade weapons and equipment. Years later, Clinton admitted that “I made the problem worse.”

The documentary then goes into the case of Trayvon Martin, who was gunned down by George Zimmerman in Florida on May 26, 2012, and the issue of “stand your ground” laws since then.


One of the most fascinating segments was about the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). It’s a private club that brings together politicians and private corporations. Walmart eventually left ALEC, but the American Bail Coalition and Koch Industries remain. One key stakeholder for years was the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). They make contracts with states to build private prisons, and then the states are required to keep those prisons filled. CCA has made $1.7 billion in profit – They’re getting rich off punishment. In addition, CCA holds contracts to detain immigrants. In essence, CCA has merged the immigration system and the prison system. After a major story from NPR in 2010, CCA left ALEC.

However, the Prison Industrial Complex continues to make money. Companies such as Corizon Healthcare, Aramark, and the National Correctional Industrial Association are involved with supplying healthcare, food, and “jobs” to prisons and prisoners. I say “jobs” in quotes because what I really mean is prison labor.

Another problem is the issue of bail and bond. Kalief Browder was arrested for a crime he did not commit. His bail was set at $10,000. He couldn’t afford the bail, so he sat in jail. They offered him a plea deal, but he said no. He wanted to go to trial. After three years, all the charges were dropped. However, by that point, he’d been in Rikers Island and in solitary confinement multiple times. The system is designed to break you in 30 days. Browder died by suicide at 22 years old after he was released.

In the United States, there has been 100 years of Jim Crow, terror, and lynching. If you’re a convicted felon, you can’t vote and you can’t get a job. How do you re-enter American society? You can’t. Some progress has been made in “removing the box” to take the felony conviction question off job applications, but there’s a long way to go.

The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for white men in 1 in 17. For black men, it’s 1 in 3.

Black men make up 6.5 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, they make up 40.2 percent of the U.S. prison population.

There was footage of riots in Watts (1965), Detroit (1967), Newark (1967), Los Angeles (1992), Ferguson, Missouri (2014). The common thread? Police brutality.

The overarching message from the interviewees is that people of color want to have human dignity. And to live in the United States, the supposed greatest country on this planet, and there’s a significant number of people who don’t have human dignity? That’s not okay in my book. We need to do more work, America.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #31: Reforming The Police

First of all, I want to say that the word “defund” in this context is inflammatory and a poor word choice. I do not plan to use that word here when I am communicating my intentions. Feel free to reach out in the comments if you have questions.

John Oliver just covered this for Last Week Tonight: Police

There are so many analogies that I can make. The biggest thing that I’ve learned in my research is that we need to lighten the load of the police. Everything has been dumped on them. No wonder they’re overwhelmed and scared.


The following was written by Father Nathan Monk, posted to his Facebook page earlier this month.

“Imagine this with me for a moment. A guy falls asleep after drinking. He’s in line for Wendy’s because he’s needing some late night greasy food. He’s been out with his friends all night and he’s super tired. He falls asleep. An employee notices and goes inside.

They call 911.

The driver wakes up to a gentle tap on the window. He rolls it down. He’s a little confused and disoriented.

“Hi. My name is Stacy. I’m a social worker and I just wanted to make sure you are alright?”

“I just fell asleep.”

“I understand. This is my colleague, their name is Dominque. They want to go order your meal for you while we talk. What did you want?”

“A number four with a coke.”

“Would you mind pulling your car over there so we can talk? Dominique will be getting that meal for you.”

“Ok, just a second. Am I in trouble?”

“No, we just want to make sure you are safe and that everyone else on the road is safe. Can we do that together?”

“I can do that!”

After a conversation, Stacy and Dominique decide that they are pretty sure they can confirm that the driver has been drinking. They ask a lot of questions about his drinking habits. They determine that he clearly doesn’t have a drinking problem. He just rarely drinks, didn’t know his limits, and made a mistake to get behind the wheel.

After his meal, the driver is feeling much better. The social workers offer to have his car towed to his house and an Uber comes to pick him up.

In this scenario, Rayshard Brooks is still alive. He’s given compassionate and reasonable care. This is what community should look like. This is a way we could re-envision what our response could be as a society. This is what it would look like to defund the police.”


What Father Nathan Monk has imagined is perfectly reasonable. Putting it into practice, however, is a different story.

Do I think it can happen?

With the right people involved, the right resources, and the proper allocation and adjustments of funding, YES.

But, it’s not just reforming the police.

It’s reforming mental health services, social services, education, and the list goes on and on.


A lot more work needs to be done. That’s the one thing that is crystal clear.

So, what can you, as a resident of your community, do?

Get involved with your city leaders. Find out who oversees the police department. Here in Portsmouth, Virginia, the police chief’s boss is our city manager.

Participate, productively, in city council meetings. Demand change. Send emails to those directly responsible.

Most importantly – Vote in the election this November. Research the candidates that will be on your ballot. Exercise your constitutional right. Request a mail-in ballot if you don’t feel comfortable voting in person. This is the one big thing that EVERYONE can do, and it’s one of the easiest things. Look up your State Board of Elections for more information.


Resources

Reforming Police | American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Police Reform | The New York Times Magazine

The Change We Need: 5 Issues that Should Be Part of Efforts to Reform Policing in Local Communities | Advancement Project

Police Reform | The Marshall Project

How to reform American police, according to experts | Vox

The City that Really Did Abolish the Police | Politico

These New Jersey cities reformed their police – what happened next? | The Guardian

Fixing the Force | PBS FRONTLINE


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #30: Thoughts on The Murder of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, and Being An Ally

George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020.

Black Lives Matter.

If there’s one thing that I understand completely, it’s that I have white privilege.

I’m committed to being a better ally.


Over the last week and a half, I’ve asked a lot of questions. Shout-out to my wonderful husband for being my main sounding board!

Here are a few snapshots of my recent thoughts.

At the end of this post, I’ve included a long list of resources, ways you can help, ways you can educate yourself and others, and other sources that I’ve found helpful.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, June 1st

I’m having trouble concentrating. I’m so angry about so many things. I’m personally not brave enough to join any of the Black Lives Matter protests, but I am committed to listening. I’ve been carefully observing my friends’ interactions on Facebook, which is my primary social media platform. I don’t have Instagram, and my Twitter is long out of date. I haven’t deleted or blocked anyone, but I have unfollowed a few since Friday. And I think that number may go up.

I deleted the CNN app from my phone, and removed the website bookmark from Google Chrome. I immediately felt better after that.

I have several friends that have participated in protests already, and I pray for all of them. I’ve tried really hard to limit my overall news and social media consumption since George Floyd was murdered one week ago, but it’s so hard to do so.


Tuesday, June 2nd

Today, I felt compelled to go through all my yearbooks – Elementary, middle, and high school. Part of it was nostalgia, but part of it was to study my classmates.

I’m from an upper-middle class, all-white family. Where I live in Virginia is largely “well off,” but each city has its own issues. I was raised in an affluent part of Chesapeake. I was educated in good schools, with excellent teachers and decent administrators. In eighth grade, I applied and was accepted to the second class of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Oscar F. Smith High School. I was thrilled, but I recognize now how nervous and apprehensive my parents were.

Why? Oscar Smith is one of the high schools that has some of the poorest students in Chesapeake. And many of them are black.

I attended OSHS from 2003 through 2007. Were there problems? Sure. There were regular fights. The biggest news story, aside from our championship football team, was a fellow senior getting arrested just two weeks before graduation in the spring of 2007. I drove home from school, and saw a reporter in front of the school sign at the top of the 5:00 news. He’d had a loaded gun in his locker, and there were reports of buried marijuana on the football field.

But, in a way, I was shielded from a lot of the problems and issues. I was part of the “smart kids.” My IB class was fairly diverse – We had, what I think, anyway, a good mix of white, black, Filipino, Mexican, and Asian students. But, we were only 41 students of more than 2,000 students at the school. The only times I truly interacted with students other than IB kids were in P.E., driver’s ed, and orchestra.

The staggering observation I made is that I’m still friends with mainly white people from my early school years. The black, Filipino, Mexican, and Asian people I’m friends with are all wonderful people. My issue? I met them either in college or after that.

I think this is bothering me so much because I’m pretty sure, unconsciously, I valued my friendships with white classmates and acquaintances higher than others. And I hate that!

But, at least I’m recognizing that now, right?

Before we went to bed, Al and I watched the first 20 minutes of the ABC News special titled America In Pain: What Comes Next. I nearly cried three times in those 20 minutes. And I felt so much shame.


Wednesday, June 3rd

I made the following comment to a post on Facebook: “I’ve been coming to terms with a lot of things in my life since George Floyd was murdered. I’ve asked a lot of questions, and I’m learning every day. I’m committed to being a better ally. I know now that I haven’t been the best ally, even though I was blindly confident that I was a good one … I’m currently listening, but I’m going to use my voice on my blog soon about this. Thank you!”

I took the opportunity to participate in a landmark “Safe Space Discussion” through my work today, from 11:00 to 12:30. I was so moved that afterward, I wrote an email to the Chief Diversity Officer, expressing my appreciation for the work that was done on the presentation, as well as fully admitting that I’m not a good ally. She replied about 30 minutes later, saying how appreciative she was, and offered her assistance in helping me to be better.

I remarked to Al how my mom, years ago, had told me the story of the riot at her high school, Miami Killian High School, when she was a student. I want to sit down with her, when it’s safe again, and record that story. I want to learn more. So far, I haven’t found any evidence of it through various Google searches. I wonder if it was covered in the news at all.

A bit of good news came in the afternoon: The murder charge against Derek Chauvin was upgraded to second-degree. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. I was happy to see people celebrating at the memorial for George Floyd, but I’m still apprehensive about a lot of things. Only time will tell.


Thursday, June 4th

I felt less angry this morning when I woke up, but still nervous, apprehensive, anxious. Over the last several days, it dawned on me: This is a watershed moment in American history. And I hope true change is made.

A friend shared an article from The Washington Post on Facebook this morning: Perspective | White parents teach their children to be colorblind. Here’s why that’s bad for everyone.

It was published in October 2018, but this article absolutely hit home.

“White parents often refrain from speaking with their children about race, racism, and racial inequality.”

“This silence reflects society’s view that white people ‘don’t have race’ — that race refers exclusively to people of color.”

“Without fail, parents responded with an expression of shocked dismay, and then emphatically stated, ‘No. What is there to say?'”

“Among the white parents I interviewed, the majority of whom were middle class, parents expressed a desire to raise non-racist white children. Most felt the best way to achieve that goal was to avoid speaking with their children about race, racism and racial inequality – past or present.”

“They also remained silent about the topic of police violence toward African Americans. When I asked parents why, many said they didn’t want to ‘upset’ their children. Others noted that the subject didn’t ‘relate’ to their (white) family’s life.”

“Most white parents who speak with their children about race adopt a colorblind rhetoric, telling their children that people may ‘look different’ but that ‘everyone is the same.'”

“As sociologist Margaret Hagerman argues in her new book, ‘White Kids,’ white parents’ decision about the best neighborhood to raise a family or enroll their children in school shapes the social context in which white children develop an understanding about members of their own racial group and members of outside racial groups.”

“As research demonstrates, identity development is relational. That means people develop an awareness of themselves as a member of a particular group when they spend time around people whom they perceive as being different from them.”

“White people aren’t ‘outside’ of race – they’re at the top of the racial hierarchy.”

——-

All those quotes to say – This is EXACTLY how I was raised. And it makes me sad.

I’m angry that it’s taken me to the age 31 to have my eyes opened. But, at the same time, I remember being afraid, hesitant, ashamed to ask “hard” questions of my parents. It wasn’t until I was in college that there were several late-night instances of discussing life and the world with my dad, long after my mom went to bed. But we didn’t talk about race.

There were glimmers of differences in my childhood and adolescence, but not many. I felt a lot of pity.

Example #1: One of my classmates, D., and his family were recipients of Angel Tree gifts from our church because his dad was in prison. D. is black, and his mom managed to hold the family together in one of the lower-income neighborhoods down the street from our middle school. I certainly didn’t know the whole story, and, at the time, I didn’t think I needed to know. One thing that was clear, crystal clear, was D. was an angry kid. He was always getting into trouble at school. And, now, as an adult, I think part of the reason was because his dad was in prison. I wish I’d reached out to him, offered to help him with his work. But, I knew, even at age 12, it would be frowned upon by my parents.

Example #2: My parents were not shy about their feelings with us buying a house in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is one of the cities in our region that has lower incomes, higher crime rates, and so-so schools. The main reason we chose Portsmouth is because we couldn’t afford the house we wanted/needed where we grew up in Chesapeake, or in northern Suffolk – We needed a house that split the distance between our jobs and commutes. We like our neighborhood, and it’s one of the safer, more affluent neighborhoods. I personally don’t want to think about moving anywhere else until after we have our first child. We have a lot of time to make that big of a decision – We’re not ready to have kids. And when we do, we have at least five more years to consider the schools. However, my parents have made snide comments to me about moving, the schools, and coming back to where Al and I grew up in Chesapeake. It’s frustrating. The other thing I noticed in the last two weeks – We have more white people in our neighborhood than I originally realized. We do have black, Latino, and Asian people. But, our street in particular is all white.

———

The other thing I’ve realized is my perception of the police has changed. I have a few friends who are law enforcement officers (LEOs), but not many. I know, as a white woman, I don’t have to have to worry getting shot when I get pulled over. And that’s just one of multiple instances of white privilege.

However, there has been too much police brutality. It has to stop. The “brotherhood” mentality needs to give way to full accountability. If you stop protecting the people to protect yourself, then you’re automatically biased. If you stop protecting the people to protect your brother or sister in blue, then you’re automatically biased. If you turn off or hide your body camera, you are biased and doing something shady.

There are so many things that need to change. I’ve posted a link to Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent letter to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer below. I agree with all of Sanders’ points, and I’m sure there’s a few more.

One of the biggest issues that currently exist is qualified immunity. I’ve posted links about that below.

So much needs to change.


What I’m Doing

I’m speaking out. I will no longer be silent. I have been afraid to use my voice. No more.

I am committed to supporting more black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) businesses, restaurants, authors, journalists, and elected officials.

I was already a registered voter, but I am fully researching every candidate that will be on my November ballot. I will be voting!

I’m examining the authors I read, and the subject matter of books. I want to read far more books, essays, short stories, and poetry by BIPOC authors. Just Mercy is next on my TBR. I’ve already ordered White Fragility, and The Nickel Boys. I’ve been researching books by Elizabeth Acevedo, Celeste Ng, Julia Alvarez, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.

I’ve prayed multiple times a day for many people and many things: Black Lives Matter, POC, our country, our LEOs, our military, and our world.


Resources

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide – Southern Poverty Law Center

The BIPOC Project

Black Lives Matter

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Stand with Standing Rock

Sanders Calls for Sweeping Reforms in Senate Democrats’ Policy Response to Police Violence (Press Release)

Legal immunity for police misconduct, under attack from left and right, may get Supreme Court review – USA Today

Qualified immunity – Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School

Best Books Written by BIPOC Authors – Goodreads

7 Books to Read Right Now to Help Support BIPOC in Your Community and Beyond

A Resource Guide for Anti-Racism + Being An Educated Ally for BIPOC

DiverseBookFinder – Multicultural picture books

Police brutality must stop – American Medical Association (AMA)

Solutions – Campaign Zero

Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual (ACLU)

How to Register to Vote – United States


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #102: “More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules”

Image Credit: Politico

NPR is one of my go-to sources. I’ve written several posts on articles from them. When I read this headline a while ago, I knew I needed to write about it: More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules


I also saw this article as a challenge to myself.

I’m not a parent.

I grew up with eating some school lunches, but most of the time I brought food from home, since my mom made big meals that turned into leftovers.

In elementary school, we learned about the food pyramid and how junk food was “bad.”

Since I graduated from high school in 2007, the rules and guidelines around school nutrition have changed. In addition, the United States weathered the worst economic downturn, among other things.

So, I wanted to dive in, do my research, and educate myself. And then share that education with you!


I’m not going to go into the entire history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but know that the USDA is the government agency that sets the rules for school nutrition. These rules apply to breakfast and lunch served in U.S. schools.

One of most landmark pieces of legislation on nutrition and schools has been the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It became Public Law on December 13, 2010. It has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on August 5, 2010.

However, at the end of 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced changes. The idea was to give schools “more flexibility in serving meals that kids will eat,” according to another article from NPR published on December 7, 2018.

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

USDA FNS – Nutrition Standards for School Meals

One of the biggest issues that people have with the new proposal is allowing any entree at any school could be served as an a la carte item for students. This means, if the proposal is made into a final rule, schools can offer pizza and burgers as an option every single day, if they choose. It’s a potential loophole to the previous rules that have mandated balanced school meals.

NOTE: While starting to write this post, I clicked on the link to the proposal from the Food and Nutrition Service on the Federal Register. I couldn’t access the Proposed Rule. There was an Editorial Note in its place, stating, “This document was withdrawn by the Office of the Federal Register because it was inadvertently placed on public inspection. The record will remain on public inspection through the close of business on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.”

This post is nowhere near finished. My research continues!

Hot Topic #28: Foster Care and Opioids

Research published in July 2019 indicates that the number of children entering the foster care system has more than doubled since 2000.

Other reasons for removal, including neglect and abuse, declined.

Coincidentally, Sesame Street introduced a new Muppet around the same time. Karli is staying with her “for-now” family while her mom is away getting better. The Sesame Street initiative focuses on addiction as a whole, but makes the connection to foster care. Karli’s mom is getting help for alcohol addiction.


Resources

More Kids Are Getting Placed in Foster Care Because of Parents’ Drug Use, NPR, July 15, 2019

At This Camp, Children of Opioid Addicts Learn to Cope and Laugh, NPR, October 9, 2019


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #99: Thoughts on Multi-Level Marketing (MLMs)

Image Credit: Reddit

Disclaimer: This post contains strong language.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about multi-level marketing for a while. But, I’ve resisted. They are everywhere.

Full disclosure: I’ve been swept up in them for a while. Not selling for any company, but buying from them and “supporting” friends.

Throughout my life, I was buying from MLMs and not really realizing it. This means that I have hosted a party, attended a party, or bought product from a seller or consultant.

  • Mary Kay
  • Avon
  • Thirty-One
  • Stella and Dot
  • The Pampered Chef
  • Pure Romance
  • Arbonne
  • Scentsy
  • Origami Owl
  • Jamberry
  • LuLaRoe
  • Young Living
  • Sseko Designs
  • Rodan + Fields

Along the way, I have been approached by consultants to try samples, buy product, or actually sell Cutco, Advocare, Plexus, Norwex, Jamberry, Young Living, Amway, and Sseko Designs.

Over the last several months, I have been researching MLMs. It all started with John Oliver’s piece – Multilevel Marketing. Al and I watch his pieces on YouTube every week. It’s funny, entertaining, but also well-researched and frighteningly real.

I felt sick after watching his piece on MLMs. I realized, in the span of 30 minutes, how much money I had FUCKING WASTED on shitty products for many, many years. I’m also grateful I resisted “investing” in any of these companies, meaning that I never signed up to sell anything. Sure, I hosted a few parties, but I never joined anyone’s team.

And I’m so glad I didn’t.

You see, many of these MLMs are like cults. You’re swept up into the world of the company, its culture, and their products. And it’s really, really hard to leave.

I’m so glad I didn’t pay money upfront to “start a business.” Sure, I bought a lot of product – Makeup, skincare, bags, nail strips, essential oils, diffusers, jewelry, clothing, and more.

I recently added up how much money in extra product I had in my house from Young Living. This included unopened essential oils, laundry detergent, cleaning products, makeup, skincare, and foaming hand soap. It was roughly $2,000.

I had it all out on my kitchen counter. And I wanted to throw up. $2,000 is a mortgage payment and then some.

All because I believed that paying for overpriced, “chemical-free” essential oil products would help my family be healthier. For more than TWO YEARS. I was buying product every month, to the tune of about $100 per month, sometimes up to $400 per month. I went back to my purchasing history and cried. I wasted so much of my hard-earned money.

Al actually asked me to stop using the YL detergent months ago because it wasn’t cleaning his clothes as well. That was the first light bulb moment for me.

Then, I started closely researching the cost of my products with Rodan + Fields, and LuLaRoe (LLR). There was so much money in my bathroom and my closet. R+F was costing me about $300 every eight weeks. My skincare regimen in their fancy bottles, and their tiny tube of LashBoost. The LashBoost alone was almost $70. Per tube.

After I joined a Facebook group called Sounds like MLM but ok, my eyes were opened even wider. There were WAY MORE MLMs than I ever imagined. This group has a master list that is literally pages long.

That’s how I discovered Sseko Designs was a fucking MLM, for example. At first, I felt hurt, betrayed even. Hardly anyone had attended the party I had thrown on Facebook earlier this year, and now I know why.

And then there are the lawsuits. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to stop buying R+F several months ago was because of the class-action lawsuit I discovered specifically about LashBoost.

Here are some of the details, from the Keller Rohrback Law Offices: Rodan + Fields LashBoost Litigation.

Another glorious thing I discovered was The Dream podcast. If you haven’t listened to it yet, I highly recommend it. You can find it on Stitcher and Apple Podcasts. Jane Marie is a gem, and I can’t wait to see what happens with Season 2.

I could go on for days about MLMs. They are some of the most deceptive “companies” out there.

What bothers me the most, however, is how predatory they are. They advertise, falsely, that you can make so much money so quickly. Yet, in my interactions with consultants trying to get me to join their teams, all the language is shady and vague. Many pitches are copied and pasted from their upline, or the people above them.

In my research, I’ve discovered that roughly 95 percent of people in MLMs don’t make any money. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Google “income disclosure statement,” and immediately many MLM names come up behind it – Monat, It Works, Arbonne, Young Living, Beachbody.

For example, Monat’s income disclosure statement reads “A typical Participant in the Plan earns between Cdn $22 and $1,188 annualized.”

That’s NOTHING. Fucking nothing. Only $1,188 PER YEAR? And that’s Cdn – Canadian. Currently, 1 Canadian dollar equals 0.76 United States dollar. Quick math – I think that translates to $902.88 USD per year.

That’s not even enough to pay my mortgage for ONE MONTH.

And that $1,188 CDN doesn’t include costs incurred by hosting parties, participating in events, and purchasing products. So, very likely, a Monat partner will never see that $902.88 in a year.

I’ve heard horror stories of people, mostly women, (but men are targeted for MLMs, too) have accumulated THOUSANDS of dollars in debt from purchasing inventory. My Facebook Marketplace is full of people desperate to unload their excess stock of Young Living oils, unsold LuLaRoe clothes and leggings, Scentsy products, and more.

Bottom line: MLMs are designed to prey on vulnerable people – Women and men. And many are stuck in it for years. It’s all very sad, and infuriating.

However, there is some good news. At the beginning of October, AdvoCare and its former CEO agreed to pay $150 million and be banned from multi-level marketing to resolve Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that the company operated an illegal pyramid scheme.

My hope is the FTC continues to investigate these predatory companies and take action. Like many industries, however, there are lobbyists and politics involved. I’ve posted a link to the Direct Selling Association (DSA) below in my resources list.

So, what can you do about MLMs?

  • Become aware. Many MLMs follow similar models, and use similar language to get people to buy in.
  • If you know someone involved in an MLM, don’t try to convince them to get out or stop. It’s like being in an abusive relationship – Only the person involved can decide when they want to leave. No one else, sadly, can change their mind.
  • Research. A simple Google search brings up articles from various sources, including The Washington Post, CNN Money, and AARP.
  • If you are approached by someone to invest or buy in, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be your own advocate. Use words such as MLM, multi-level marketing, direct sales, or pyramid scheme.
  • At craft fairs, farmers markets, and other local events, support your neighbors and their small businesses. I guarantee you it will be a better experience for everyone. The money you spend will help them grow and invest in their products, whether it’s handmade soap, hand-crafted jewelry, doll clothes, or locally-sourced food.
  • If you help organize craft fairs, fundraisers, or farmers markets, work to limit the number of MLMs that are allowed to participate. Some places and organizations have gone so far to ban them entirely. I’m not telling you what to do, but just be mindful of the businesses you want to attract and support.
  • “No” is a complete sentence.

Resources

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #27: Purdue Pharma

Purdue Pharma

OxyContin bottles, the biggest drug made and marketed by Purdue Pharma. Image Credit: CNN

Purdue Pharma announced it was filing for bankruptcy on Sunday, September 15, 2019.

They have been in the news for so long.

What does this mean?

Hopefully this post will show you the history of this company, their impact on the opioid crisis, and what may happen next.


Purdue Pharma History

It was founded in 1892 by medical doctors John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham.

In 1952, two other doctors, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, bought the company. Older brother Arthur Sackler had a one-third stake in the company, which was sold to his brothers after his death. At that time, the company sold staples such as earwax remover and laxatives.

Purdue Pharma L.P. was incorporated in 1991, focused on pain management medication.

Manufacturing is located at three sites: Wilson, North Carolina; Totowa, New Jersey; and Coventry, Rhode Island.

Sister companies, also controlled by descendants of the Sackler brothers are Napp Pharmaceuticals in the U.K. and Mundipharma. These companies sell opioids globally.

In addition to OxyContin, Purdue makes pain medicines such as hydromorphone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and hydrocodone. Contin, a controlled drug-release system was developed in 1972. Its extended-release formulation of morphine, MS Contin, began in 1984.

OxyContin is Purdue’s extended-release formulation of oxycodone. It was released in 1996.

Arthur Sackler pioneered an aggressive marketing strategy decades earlier. Purdue pressed and convinced doctors to prescribe OxyContin, with incentives such as free trips to pain management seminars and paid speaking engagements. The drug was marketed as “smooth and sustained pain control all day and all night” when taken on a 12-hour schedule. In addition, it was touted to have “lower abuse potential than immediate-release oxycodone because of its time-release properties, even though there was no scientific evidence backing that conclusion.”

In 2000, just four years after OxyContin was released, widespread reports of abuse of the drug came to light.

At the same time, OxyContin was a “blockbuster drug” for Purdue. Between 1995 and 2001, OxyContin netted $2.8 billion for Purdue.


The Opioid Crisis

The numbers are staggering. According to an AP article published in January 2019, the opioid crisis killed 72,000 Americans in 2017.

An article from Quartz, published in mid-August 2019, was the summary of a meeting between an ER doctor and a former Purdue Pharma sales representative, and others.

“The company has not only faced public pushback for its role in the opioid crisis, but in 2007 Purdue was found guilty of downplaying the risks and overstating the effectiveness of opioids. The company also used legal marketing practices to boost sales, despite knowing the risks of addiction and dependence. These tactics are now at the center of a host of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors; those suits are currently making their way through the courts in Ohio.”

Some of the statements that Carol, the former sales rep, and Dr. Chris Johnson, made, were staggering.

“I remember hearing rumors early on that the bonuses for the Purdue sales reps were just incredible. Some of them were making $50 or $60,000 a quarter in incentive bonuses.”—Carol Panara, former Purdue sales rep

“Here’s the problem with a capitalist society: They have an incentive in you consuming more health care. You being healthy on your own isn’t good for business.”—Dr. Chris Johnson

Johnson: “With the passage the Affordable Care Act, something came into existence called the Open Payments Act. You can look up and see what doctors have taken gifts from pharmaceutical companies. And it turns out if you want to see where the most opioids deaths are, follow pharmaceutical gifts to doctors. Open Payments shows that half the doctors in this country take gifts from pharmaceutical companies. They’ve all taken the oath. Doctors are terrible at assessing how their influenced.  In my view, rather than relying on raising a hand and taking an oath, disrupt the incentives. Disrupt that reciprocity mechanism to get independent, and I would hope, more scientific thinking.”

In my area of southeastern Virginia, a recent discussion with the Opioid Working Group found that an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people have withdrawn from the Hampton Roads workforce due to opioids.

In short, Purdue knew years ago its drug was dangerous and addictive, but they aggressively marketed it anyway.


What’s Next?

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The intent for this filing was to stop the onslaught of lawsuits that the company has been facing. These lawsuit range from state to local governments, among others.

However, some state attorneys general have made it clear they will be pursuing additional damages from both the company and the Sackler family.

It has been reported that the company assets are not sufficient for the states. As early as last week, the New York attorney general’s office announced it had uncovered $1 billion dollars in wire transfers by the Sackler family.


To me, they’re running scared. This bankruptcy filing is their last resort, desperate to settle out of court.

In March 2019, Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to settle a case with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million dollars.

Twelve years ago, in 2007, a landmark settlement of $634.5 million dollars was reached, based on federal allegations the company had misbranded OxyContin. The company, along with three executives, plead guilty to criminal charges.

Image result for purdue pharma quotes

Image Credit: AZ Quotes

I look forward to future media coverage. It’s high time that a company like this is finally held accountable for its actions.


Resources


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #96: Thoughts on “Mindhunter”

Mindhunter Season 1

Image Credit: Mindhunter Wiki

This show right here. Holy cow!

I had heard many good things about it before I sat down to watch it. I took my time with it – I originally committed to one episode per day. This turned out to be a good thing.

This is one of those shows where you need to block everything else out, or as much as you can. Watching it sucks you in, but my habit of looking at my phone while watching a show or movie was broken pretty quickly. Otherwise, I would miss stuff. I started Episode 1 over at one point, because something interrupted me about 30 minutes in, and I wanted to make sure I was refreshed on the details from the very beginning.

I do have some issues with the show, but overall, I really enjoyed it. I really hope Netflix does a Season 3. I want more!


Season 1 (2017)

The show opens in 1977. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, Glee) is introduced to veteran FBI agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). They begin studying and interviewing murderers in various prisons.

I thought Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper was amazing! It was a bit surreal to hear these actors emulate these horrible men. And the sets looked and felt real!

The pacing was a bit hard to follow sometimes, but I also enjoyed the addition of Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv, Fringe) to the team, and Bill’s wife, Nancy Tench (Stacey Roca) is such a good character.

As you follow Ford, Tench, Carr, and their lives, there are scenes set in Kansas toward the beginning and end of every episode. I thought Sonny Valicenti as the ADT Serviceman was great, but also incredibly creepy! No spoilers — But I highly recommend paying attention to these brief scenes every single time. They are important.

This season was captivating. There is so much going on with these characters! And I enjoy history, so seeing this based on true events in the 1970s was pretty groovy. Haha!


Season 2 (2019)

Image Credit: Mindhunter Wiki

It was perfect timing when I started watching the show. Season 2 dropped on Netflix on August 16th, which happened to be right as I finished up Season 1. I feel bad for everyone else who had to wait two years!

Overall, I liked the angle of Season 2. I knew a little bit about the Atlanta Child Murders before watching the show, but not a lot. I thought it was interesting they focused on it for the majority of the season, if not a bit disappointing.

Maybe it’s just me, but I wanted more about the history and development of the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU).

Regardless, I liked how this season wove the work of the BSU and the ongoing investigation in Atlanta together.

One key piece was Bill struggling to cope with his unfolding family situation in Virginia, while trying to help the investigation in Atlanta. Again, no spoilers, but this was so emotional and real!

Regardless of my slight disappointments, this season felt more emotional and riveting. And the actor they cast to play Wayne Williams is uncanny. The casting was so good!

Also, check out YouTube for several videos on how they made the sets and historical details look so good!

I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of Season 3!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #91: “Appalachia has a new story to tell, and it’s not an elegy” (Editorial)

Ridgeview High School Robotics Team

This is the championship Ridgeview High School robotics team from Southwest Virginia. Way to go! Image Credit: Dickenson County Public Schools

This was a fascinating editorial that one of my good friends, Mr. Lin, shared on Facebook a while ago. Mr. Lin used to be a teacher at my local elementary school, but has since created an impressive career in school administration. He has been an assistant principal and a principal in the Roanoke County Schools, Floyd County Schools, and now in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the link to the original post:


On The Roanoke Times’ website, the caption with the photo I used states: “The first team from Ridgeview High School in Dickenson County to win a state championship was its robotic team in 2018. That team went on to the world championship in Detroit, where it placed 9th out of 64 teams. Our editorial at left looks at how J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ perpetuates negative stereotypes of Appalachia. There’s a different story the region ought to tell, and the engineering skills of students in one of the state’s most rural localities ought to be part of that new narrative.”

Every time I read something new about Appalachia, whether it’s an editorial or not, I always learn new things or discover something different. This editorial was no exception.


When I first heard about Hillbilly Elegy on NPR’s Fresh Air, I was immediately intrigued. I kept telling myself I was going to read it, but here we are, in July 2019, and I haven’t read it yet. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I didn’t realize Ron Howard is planning to make a movie about the memoir, either. I admire Howard immensely. However, I’m hesitant to see it, whenever it is released. I don’t appreciate negative stereotypes, whether they’re implied or not.


Maybe my feathers are ruffled because of my own Appalachian “history.” Much of my mom’s extended family hails from West Virginia. I have fond memories of many family reunions in Ripley and Beckley. I loved visiting my great-grandmother, Laura Bethany Powers, whom I am named after. She lived to be 102!

In addition, I started researching Appalachia on my own in high school and throughout college.

This editorial opened my eyes to the progress that has been made and seen in Southwest Virginia. Since it is the Roanoke newspaper, I understand why they focused on their own region. Still, seeing the positive statistics made me happy, and hopeful.


I still plan to read Hillbilly Elegy, eventually. I have another 15 or so books I want to read first.

But, after I read Hillbilly Elegy, I’ll likely look up the other two books that were mentioned in the editorial:

  1. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, by Elizabeth Catte
  2. Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, a collection of essays by scholars and community activists in the region, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

I found one other part of the editorial to be striking:

“Given all this talent, technology companies ought to be competing to locate in Appalachia, not acting as if it didn’t even exist. These are the stories we need to be telling the world — that we are a topographically-challenged and economically-challenged part of the country that is populated by smart, hard-working people.”

An interesting thought, and that needs to be explored much further.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #84: “As GM’s Lordstown plant idles, an iconic American job nears extinction”

Lordstown GM Plant

Image Credit: CNN

I saw this fascinating CNN article on Wednesday, March 6th:


The Lordstown, Ohio plant has been closed for nearly a week now. It made its last Chevy Cruze sedan on March 6th. Another sign of the times. General Motors (GM) has shrunk from more than 618,000 workers to just north of 100,000 people.

Auto manufacturing in the U.S. has been declining for a while now. The closure of Lordstown is part of GM’s shift in strategy – Away from sedans, more focus on higher-margin trucks and light SUVs, as well as researching and developing electric and autonomous vehicles. GM has also invested in a ridesharing platform called Maven.

In addition to a declining workforce, U.S. auto workers have experienced a drop in wages (Roughly 18 percent since 1990, adjusted for inflation), and less retirement benefits. Just two years ago, only eight percent of factories offered pensions.


Lordstown sits in the Youngstown, Ohio region, halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The average worker in Youngstown made $38,000 per year in 2017. Compare that to $61,000 to $88,000 per year for full-time GM production workers, according to their United Auto Workers union contract. And that doesn’t include overtime pay and bonuses.

The Lordstown plant started to see changes about two years ago. As the demand for the Cruze sedan declined, the second and third shifts were cut, and 3,000 people were laid off. Of the remaining 1,400 people, about 400 accepted transfers to other plants, and they are able to hold on to their healthcare and pensions. There were 350 workers eligible for retirement. Those transferred workers will receive $30,000 in relocation assistance.

One of the workers interviewed for the article, at GM since 1995, thought she had enough seniority to transfer to another facility, such as the metal fabrication plant in Cleveland or the transmission factory in Toledo. However, relocating is not ideal, either. She’s stuck, quoted as saying GM has her in a “chokehold.”

“I make $32 an hour. I’m not going to go get a $12-an-hour job. I couldn’t survive on that at all. I’m going to get up and go, ride it out, try to get the best gig I can get, and be done with them.” She’s hoping to net her 30 years at GM – which won’t happen until 2025.


The Youngstown region has watched manufacturing slide downhill since the 1970s. The auto industry started to crack less than a decade later, with stiffer competition from Japanese automakers. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) dealt another blow, as work was outsourced to lower-paying suppliers. In 2007, as the automakers were having systemic issues related to the financial crisis and impending Great Recession, a lower-wage tier was created for entry-level workers, where they made 45 percent less per hour and got a 401(k) rather than a guaranteed pension. GM’s bankruptcy two years later tightened things even further.

For Lordstown, the community has thrived on GM. At one point, GM helped bring more than $2 million in tax revenue, among other benefits to schools and community ventures. Twenty years ago, Lordstown was competing with other cities to win another car model to replace the Chevy Cavalier. The community banded together, and along with plant officials, were successful in winning that car model. The community tried it again in 2018 – Posting signs, writing letters, and working with politicians. Unfortunately, one of the big factors was plant management wasn’t interested in participating this time.

Many are uncertain and fearful. They’ve watched GM shutter, and then re-open, their plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. What if that happens in Lordstown?

Another problem is many GM workers were hired without secondary education. Nearly two-thirds of the 13,000 purported job openings in Youngstown, including information technology and healthcare, will require a post-secondary credential by 2021.

One bright spot is trade adjustment assistance, available to GM workers through the state and U.S. Department of Commerce. Truck driving certificates have been popular recently, due to the quick turnaround to earning them, and relatively good pay.


As Lordstown begins to adjust to life without GM, the local high school has started a training program for the logistics industry, helping prepare students for jobs in the various distribution centers in the area. Roughly 15 percent of students have parents worked in the plant. And they’ve already begun to experience losses, as families leave to accept those transfers at other GM plants.

TJ Maxx is building a facility that will employ 1,000 people locally. However, the wage difference is drastic. Where many at GM made $30 per hour or more, entry-level listings for other TJ Maxx facilities sit between $10 and $13.50 per hour.

However, Lordstown doesn’t want the shuttered plant to be turned over to Amazon, Tesla, or any other company. Not yet, anyway.


This story isn’t just about one GM plant in one Ohio town. It’s about history, the manufacturing industry, the changes in the American workforce, and what can be done for those who need jobs now.


Resources


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂