Hot Topic #21: The Confounding Congress

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Image Credit: AZ Quotes

Disclaimer: This post contains strong language.


Hey there, readers. Bear with me. This post is probably going to be long-winded, basically a stream of consciousness, and likely have a significant amount of profanity in it.

You’ve been warned.


As a result of a spirited discussion with my wonderful husband last weekend (Note – Not spirited as in angry or anything. We typically tend to agree on most things, including politics and things going on in Washington), I’ve been inspired / motivated to write out some thoughts about our United States Congress.

Simply put – It’s completely fucked up.

And it has been for a LONG time.

Meanwhile in Congress

Image Credit: Meme Center


I decided to read through the entire U.S. Constitution.

Friends, it’s been way too long since I read this (I think the last time I read it in full was, begrudgingly, for my 10th grade IB Government class). I’m glad that I took the time to read it – It was like another education.

The Patriot Post

Image Credit: The Patriot Post

Here’s some highlights:

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” (Article I, Section 1)

“The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” (Article I, Section 2).

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, [chosen by the Legislature thereof,]* for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.” (Article I, Section 3).

“The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.” (Article I, Section 6).

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” (The 16th Amendment – Passed by Congress July 2, 1909. Ratified February 3, 1913.)

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.” (The 27th Amendment – Originally proposed Sept. 25, 1789. Ratified May 7, 1992.)


They’re fighting over healthcare, but they all know that they’re completely exempt from whatever legislation that eventually passes?

I say that every member of Congress should have to go through the same process that all of the other Americans in this country go through to sign up for healthcare. They should experience the hardships that so many others face!

There is no “employer-sponsored healthcare” in this instance – That’s only for people who work for businesses that offer health plans to them. Period!


Wouldn’t it be great if Congress also couldn’t vote for themselves?

I wish that every member of Congress could be knocked down a peg, so to speak. I wish we, the people, could mandate that every single member only makes $7.25 an hour. Yep, you got that right, make sure that those serving in Congress only make minimum wage.

Oh, and you’re capped at 40 hours a week. No overtime. Nothing extra. And during those 40 hours, you get your work done. If your work isn’t done … You can be fired. Kicked to the curb. If you’re kicked out, then you have to go back home and start all over. Plenty of Americans have gone through layoffs, corporate restructuring, and being fired. Why should members of Congress just be able to sail through?

You get two weeks of vacation per year – That’s it. No more ridiculous recesses that last WEEKS. Recess is for those in elementary school.

No more housing allowances – That’s only given to those who serve our country in our armed forces. Period.


Back to healthcare for a minute. Since you, as a member of Congress, only make $7.25 an hour – You have to choose your healthcare like anyone else who only makes minimum wage. Yep, that makes you have to take the time and go on Healthcare.gov or go through the exchanges to find your health plan.

Oh, and you have to make sure your spouse and all of your children are covered, too.

Not so easy now, is it?


Oh, and whatever happened to serving in Congress actually being a service to your constituents and this great nation?

If I remember correctly, not too long ago, there were no career politicians. None, zero. There were farmers who were elected in Kansas, businessmen elected in Arizona, dentists elected in California – Those men (and later women) maintained their households, jobs and/or businesses, and lives in their constituencies. When their work was done in Washington, they went back to their families and jobs and businesses at home, and worked with their constituents to help their districts change for the better. These men and women didn’t have apartments or houses in Washington, Virginia, or Maryland. They went home to Kansas, Arizona, California, and so on!

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Image Credit: PolitiFact — Based on numbers from 2014, this is nearly 100 percent accurate. *facepalm*


If you stuck with me through now, thanks for reading! I try really hard to not get political on the blog. But, sometimes, something makes me really mad, and the best way that I cope is to write about it!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #35: “The Man in the High Castle”

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Image Credit: Catspaw Dynamics

Finally! This is one book that I was hoping to finish a LONG time ago. I almost finished it in the fall, but the two-week window from the library closed so quickly. It was bugging me, for months. I hate not finishing books, unless it was so insufferable that I couldn’t stand to finish it.

This book was not one of those insufferable ones. I got it from the library two Saturdays ago, and I just made the deadline. Hooray!

It was an intriguing book. In a sentence: Imagine if the Allies lost World War II.

Think about that. If Germany, Japan, and Russia had won, what in the world would happen?

Philip K. Dick is (was) a very interesting writer. As I’ve said in previous reviews, I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, but alternate reality has recently captured my attention. I’ve even considered using it in some of my own writing.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I’m excited to see what Amazon has done with their TV series of the same name.

Trying not to give away a lot (The book is only a little over 200 pages), it’s 1962 and the U.S. has been divided into the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States. Mr. Dick creates multiple characters as they try to live their lives under seemingly oppressive rule and challenging times.

Mr. Dick also creates “a novel within a novel.” This is something that I don’t see very often, but I usually enjoy. The novel within the book shows details of what would happen if the Allies HAD won the war, though it’s different that what actual history has shown. Regardless, it was fascinating. I appreciated how the author carefully wove it into the plot.

In writing this post, I started looking at other books that employ alternate reality or history. One that made me raise my eyebrows was Bring The Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore, about an alternative Civil War. You can bet I’m adding this one to my TBR.

This was not a hard read, at all, despite my previous reservations / hesitancy about science fiction. It flows easily, and I enjoyed learning about the different characters. Through his words, it was frighteningly easy to imagine what life could like if the Allies had lost and Germany and Japan swiftly took over everything. The characters attempt to make the most of what they have and what they are living with, but I imagine that life would be pretty miserable. I found myself reading at least one chapter per night, unless I was completely exhausted.

This book made me think about how wars affect everyone and everything. Unfortunately, several countries in our world are suffering under dictatorships and oppressive rule, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it!

Seeing what Mr. Dick created made me shiver. I’m curious to see what else he wrote in his short time on this Earth (He died in 1982 at age 53, from a stroke).

4 1/2 out of 5 stars


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #32: “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison”

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

At the end of April, during a long weekend with Al and his parents, I found this paperback while visiting the Virginia Avenue Mall in Clarksville, Virginia. There were so many books – It was a really cool indoor, two-story flea market. I was hunting for something else, but for $4.00, I couldn’t pass this up!

I haven’t watched the series on Netflix, but I’ve always been curious about it. I knew it was based on a true story / inspired by true events, but I didn’t realize that Piper Kerman had written a book about it!

This was another book that I finished quickly, but forgot to write the review. I’m trying really hard to break this habit! I think it only took me about two weeks to read.

It was crazy to read about how Piper’s unfortunate globe-trotting escapades caught up with her several YEARS later. She was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, and served her time in three different facilities.

Having only learned about prison from books and other media, reading a first-hand account from a woman who was not a typical inmate was eye-opening, and oddly fascinating. I say “not typical” because Piper was well-educated (She graduated from Smith College before getting involved with her criminal activities), and had an immense support system on the outside.

She did a fantastic job of painting the experience for the reader – I felt like I was right beside her the entire time. I really got to know Piper, as well as all the women around her. I went through many emotions – I laughed, I teared up, I wanted to scream. Mostly, I laughed. I personally think Piper tried to make the very best of her not-so-desirable situation, and I think she handled it really well.

I didn’t want to put the book down. I started to limit myself to only 1-2 chapters per night, because I wanted to read 5-6. It’s no wonder that this book has transformed into a successful series on Netflix.

Kerman did a great job with details, and made sure that the reader got as much of the full experience of her 15 months between Danbury, Connecticut; Oklahoma City; and Chicago as possible. It was also really interesting to go back in time, in a way, reading about headlines and news from 2003 through 2005.

She displayed a significant amount of courage by writing this book. She gives the reader an inside look into a tough place, and she does a really good job of showing honesty, sympathy, and advocacy.

I highly recommend this book. It’s definitely not the easiest read, but it really opened my eyes. I have a better understanding of what these women go through, and how those on the outside should be better about treating them. There’s still a huge stigma around incarceration, and these women deserve better.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #52: Thoughts on “The Keepers”

The Keepers - imdb

Image Credit: IMDb

Al mentioned this new Netflix Original series to me a couple weeks ago.

I watched the first two episodes, out of seven, alone. In retrospect, I’m glad that I re-watched them with Al this past week. We just finished the last one today. I don’t think I could have handled it alone.

Much like my Making A Murderer post from last October, I want to try to summarize the series here, and give my thoughts and feelings about it. I will do my best to limit any spoilers!

In November 1969, Sister Catherine (Cathy) Cesnik mysteriously vanished near Baltimore, Maryland. There had been an experiment where she and another nun were allowed to leave their convent and become public school teachers at the all-girls Catholic Archbishop Keough High School.

At the time of her disappearance, Cathy was going shopping for some bakery buns, and an engagement gift for her sister. When her roommate, Sister Russell Phillips, discovered that Cathy had not returned to the apartment, she notified two friends, one of whom was a priest. A few hours later, the police were called and an investigation began.

Sadly, just three days into the year 1970, Sister Cathy’s body was found in a local garbage dump, in nearby Lansdowne, Maryland. The initial investigation concluded that her skull had been fractured at the left temple, but little other evidence was found. The case remains open and unsolved.

The Keepers follows several of Sister Cathy’s students, in the present day, trying to solve her murder, and untangle the web that surrounded their beloved teacher.

Throughout the seven episodes, we learn that Father A. Joseph Maskell was the chaplain at Archbishop Keough, as well as the Baltimore Police Department, and the Maryland State Police. Prior to his arrival at Keough in 1967, Maskell was a priest at multiple churches/parishes in Maryland. Maskell stayed at Keough through 1975.

Gemma and Abbie are the primary amateur investigators in the case. They simply wanted to see Cathy’s murder solved, and to figure out what really happened. Along the way, they begin to discover the secret world that was surrounding their school, and the potential scandal that Cathy knew about.

Without going into gory detail, it was alleged that Father Maskell was committing acts of sexual abuse in his office in the school. In the episodes, several women (Jane Doe, Jane Roe, Mary, Donna, and others) describe what Maskell was doing to them. One woman, Lil, recounted how Maskell asked her to type the transcripts of the “counseling sessions” and “psychological reports” of the girls. Almost all of the reports were sexual in nature.

Gemma and Abbie, among others, start to realize that Cathy knew what was going on, and she was likely murdered to keep the scandal quiet.

Watching the first two episodes alone, I was absolutely horrified. I almost didn’t want to keep watching. What these women were saying that this man did to them made me sick.

When Al and I watched them together, there were several moments where we paused it, and said, together, “What on Earth is happening? Why? Holy freaking cow! This is absolutely nuts!”

We found that our profanity increased as the episodes went over. We could not believe that Maskell, and several others, got away with these terrible acts for so many years.

We noticed that, unfortunately, there are deep ties between the Archdiocese and the police. We’re convinced that there’s money involved, as well as rampant corruption. And this is just in Baltimore!

According to Wikipedia, there are 197 particular churches in the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That’s a lot!

To summarize, The Keepers is a decent series. It could have been told in five episodes, rather than seven. But, it’s an important story to be told. When we were watching, we were reminded of the movie Spotlight from 2015. It’s an incredible movie, and it follows similar veins from Boston.

In talking with others on Facebook, my hope is that series and movies like these will help victims to gather the courage to come forward, to tell their stories. Abuse is not acceptable or okay in any form, but against children is especially heinous. These men (and women) should be punished accordingly. The church needs to stop “transferring” priests and others that are accused of abuse and other crimes. They need to be prosecuted. More importantly, these victims need to be believed. They need to be respected and applauded for their courage.

There needs to be justice for Sister Cathy.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #18: What’s Up With Washington?

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Image Credit: InspirationSeek.com

Disclaimer: This post contains strong language.


Sigh.

I’ll admit, I’ve put off writing a post like this. I try to be an optimistic, positive, and enthusiastic person. I also try to bring those qualities to my writing, and the blog. There’s so much doom and gloom and bad news!

However, I cannot be silent anymore.

My shock has finally lessened, and I’ve accepted that Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States.

Does “accepted” that mean that I agree with it? Does that mean I’m okay with it?

Absolutely fucking not.


What I mean (or what I’m trying to say) is that I know / understand that Trump is our President now, and we all have to deal with it.

As I’ve attempted to write this post in a coherent manner for a great many days, I’m just stunned at how literally everything has changed since November.

Nearly four months ago, our country was preparing for / bracing itself to find out whether a billionaire businessman, or a powerful woman, would be elected to lead our great nation.

When I woke up on Wednesday, November 9th, my greatest fears were realized. I immediately felt sick. No, scratch that. I felt like shit. I could barely process the barrage of CNN News Alerts on my iPhone. I didn’t want to go to work. I wanted to curl up in a ball, terrified of what just happened and scared as hell for whatever was going to come next.

But, through it all, I held my head high.

I’ve had several fascinating, informative, and civil discussions with my husband, my dad, my manager, and a handful of others. I’ve attempted to swim through all the media coverage and social media discourse, and come to my own conclusions.


I want to share what I think.

Bear with me, this may get a bit lengthy.

Yeesh, you guys. I can’t even number this list – I just have no clue where to even start.

Okay.

Deep breath.

Here we go.

  • Healthcare: It’s maddening to think that they think they can simply “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. It took SIX YEARS – Yes, that long – to enact what’s currently in place. I want evidence of their so-called solution. For more, see Hot Topic #17.
  • Jobs / The Economy: It’s nice that certain companies have said, “Yes, we’ll keep our plants / facilities in the U.S.” Will that actually happen? Who knows.
  • Immigration: His immigration ban already failed once. We shouldn’t be focusing on the countries he’s listed. The U.S. has its own problems! Plus, there are millions of refugees trying to escape terrible wars, famine, and more. Shouldn’t the U.S. government be a bit more compassionate? The FBI and the military have been focusing on terrorism since September 11, 2001 – We shouldn’t be stopping immigration based solely on fear.
  • “The Wall”: I roll my eyes and snicker every time I hear about this. This is not the answer. This is not the solution!
  • LGBTQ Rights: I’m going to borrow a quote I’ve seen on social media in the last couple of days: “It’s not about bathrooms, just like it was never about water fountains.” More to come about this, in a future blog post, or two.
  • The Dakota Access Pipeline: Everything else in Washington seems to be pushing this issue to the back burner, which makes me mad! For more, see Hot Topic #16.
  • Crime: Trump needs to get over himself, attend his daily briefings like all other Presidents in the history of our country have done, and stop using alternative facts and/or fake news. The inflated crime statistics, the 45-year-high murder rate – Nope. Try again. FALSE.
  • Relations with Russia: Once again, John Oliver is fucking brilliant. Check out his most recent episode of Last Week Tonight: Putin.
  • The Media: I lead you to John Oliver again: Trump vs. Truth. Also, the most recent frightening development – Yesterday, when several news organizations (CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, BuzzFeed, The Guardian, and the BBC) were outright BANNED from the White House press briefing? Yep, that’s absolutely terrifying. In that same article, Trump was quoted as saying that “… much of the press represents ‘the enemy of the people.'”
  • Planned Parenthood: Voting to de-fund Planned Parenthood because they perform abortions? Oh, my God. Give me a break! ZERO federal funds are used for abortions – Not one penny. Here’s the simplest explanation I could find: How Federal Funding Works at Planned Parenthood. For more, see Hot Topic #12.

Well, readers, this is all I can muster to write, for now. Thanks for reading / listening. You all mean the world to me.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #17: The Affordable Care Act

There’s been a lot of chatter online recently regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

I started writing this post about two weeks before Election Day. It’s only been 17 days since that day, but the whole world has now changed.

Like many people, I was stunned at the outcome. I know that the ACA is now under a stronger microscope now, more than ever.


Full disclosure: I work for a health system in Virginia. For the last four years, I have been immersed in the world of healthcare and the insurance companies. My department helps negotiate the contracts between the health insurance companies, and our health system.

As with all of my blog posts that involve research and sources, I try my best to be well-read and as well-informed as possible.


The official name for the ACA is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). It was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.

There were three main goals with enacting the PPACA:

  1. Increase health insurance quality and affordability
  2. Lower the uninsured rate by expanding insurance coverage
  3. Reduce the costs of healthcare

The law requires health insurance companies to accept all applicants, cover a specific list of conditions, and charge the same rates regardless of pre-existing conditions or sex.


On a positive note, the law has appeared to help reduce the number of Americans without health insurance.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of people without health insurance was 16.0 percent in 2010.

Between the period of January-June 2016, the percentage of people without health insurance was down to 8.9 percent.

That breaks down to a 7.1 percent reduction. Dividing that by six years, it’s been roughly a 1.18 percent reduction since the law was enacted.


In March 2016, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that 23 million people now have insurance due to the law.

Those 23 million people break down as follows:

  • 12 million people covered by the exchanges (10 million of those received subsidies to help pay for their insurance).
  • 11 million made eligible for Medicaid.

I’m going to stop for a second and try to answer some questions that may have arisen with what you just read.

What are the exchanges?

  • They are regulated marketplaces, mostly online, where individuals and small businesses can purchase private insurance plans.
  • They are in all 50 states.
  • They are administered by either the federal or state government.

What are subsidies?

  • Subsidies are money, in the form of a refundable tax credit, made available to certain households. The U.S. has a federal poverty level (FPL), and households that have incomes that equal a certain percentage of the FPL can get help to purchase insurance on the exchanges.
  • For example, in 2014, the FPL was $11,800 for a single person, and $24,000 for a family of four people. Households with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the FPL were eligible.
  • $24,000 x 133 percent (1.33) = $31,920 per year income. The maximum insurance premium that family would pay was $992 for that year. The family could also be eligible for a little over $5,000 in subsidies.

What is Medicaid?

  • Medicaid is a government program that helps provide health insurance for people with low income, such as adults, children, and people with certain disabilities.
  • One caveat of the PPACA is that Medicaid expansion was left up to the individual states. Virginia, for example, is one of the states that chose to not expand Medicaid.

It’s tough to wade through all of this information. I can see why there have been numerous challenges and criticisms of the ACA. It’s been six years since it’s been enacted. Even though I work for a health system and I work with the health insurance companies on an almost-daily basis, it’s difficult for me to try to explain all of this.

I feel extremely fortunate that my employer offers health insurance that covers almost all of my needs. The premium is taken directly out of my paycheck, and my out-of-pocket costs are relatively low. There are certain things, such as my chiropractor visits and dermatology procedures, that are not always covered, but I’m fortunate to have a good job that allows me to pay those bills. I feel at peace, knowing that if I had to go the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital any time soon, that my insurance would be able to cover me.

Because of my job, I’ve tried really hard to immerse myself in learning about the ACA and how it works, or how it’s supposed to work. By educating myself, I’m able to think and speak more intelligently about it, and try to think ahead. The world of healthcare is constantly changing, nearly every day.


I’ll leave you with a list of resources that I used while constructing this post. I hope this post was educational, informative, and helpful.

I certainly don’t know everything, but I definitely like to learn.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #41: Declaring My Love for Podcasts

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Image Credit: Capterra Blog

“If you want to stand out as a leader, a good place to begin is by listening.”

– Richard Branson


This little purple app on my iPhone makes me deliriously happy:

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Image Credit: support.apple.com


Podcasts are certainly not a new thing to me. I had to create a three-part series for my Advanced Broadcast Production class at Longwood in the spring of 2011.

It was certainly interesting, but given that I hate / absolutely loathe the sound of my recorded voice, it was a challenging assignment.


Then, fast-forward several years.

For my personal phone, I upgraded from a non-smartphone to an iPhone 6 almost a year ago.

About a month into this new experience, my wonderful husband officially introduced me to the Podcasts app, and I haven’t looked back.


As I started playing around, I discovered that National Public Radio (NPR) had a lot to offer. So, I started there.

It was information overload. There were way too many to choose from!

Now that I’ve settled into a regular routine, I love listening to these episodes in my car. I almost always play at least one episode to get me through the drive to and from work, five days a week. My commute is roughly 30 miles, and it takes anywhere from 35-45 minutes to get to and fro (sometimes longer), so these anecdotes have definitely kept me entertained!


Here’s my current podcast playlist (alphabetical order):

Out of this list, there’s seven that are produced by NPR, and I love all of them.

Ask Me Another and Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! both satiate my game show and trivia palates on a weekly basis. I’m actually hoping to get on both programs, at some point.

I love learning about history and cool stories – Most of these podcasts give me that fresh feeling every week!

The Nerdist is hilarious – I love the cast of characters that Chris Hardwick gets to interview! The best part is I get to pick and choose what I listen to, and when I want to do so. Recently, he’s interviewed the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mayim Bialik, Summer Ash, and Sarah Jessica Parker!

Several of the podcasts that I subscribe to have a “seasonal” format. Embedded, Invisibilia, and Serial have done this. It’s like a TV show – They produce a certain number of episodes, and then take a break to prepare for the new season.

It can be frustrating at times, but I know these men and women are hard at work and dreaming up even bigger things!


I’m always looking for new or interesting recommendations. If you have any podcasts that you crush on or love to listen to, I’d love to hear them!

Also, here’s a thought:

  • If you were to dream up an idea for a podcast, what would you do, and why?

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂