Category Archives: Government Watch

The Giving Season [Parents, December 2013]

One in five American children lives in poverty.

Every time I type that statistic, I feel stunned all over again.

For the past two years, I’ve been reporting one of those endless labor-of-love stories where I’m following several mothers of those children and trying to understand the constant onslaught of impossible decisions they are forced to make. That piece will hopefully be out early next year and I’ll tell you lots more about it then.

But in the meantime, I was delighted when Parents Magazine asked me to write a feature called “The Giving Season” for their December issue. My editor’s idea was pretty simple: Make sure their 2.2 million readers know just how common childhood poverty has become — and encourage us all to do something to fight it this holiday season.

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Wonder Drug [ELLE, November 2013]

This is one of those very tricky stories that made me think very hard about stuff that I’ve long taken as gospel. Specifically: That The Pill is the best thing that ever happened to women’s healthcare and maybe to women, period.

I know. As a good feminist and generally responsible human being, I have long assumed that being on the Pill was more or less my civic duty. I thought I had to be on it the same way I have to vote because, you know, Susan B. Anthony and Seneca Falls.

But you guys already know a lot of my back story here: Migrainesendometriosis, what have you.* And at some point along my merry way, I started wondering about the Pill. It was clear that all of my health issues were hormonal. And the Pill — which I had been taking faithfully since the age of 14 — is nothing but (synthetic) hormones. I tried lots of different kinds and ultimately got to this catch-22 situation where I couldn’t stay healthy off the Pill but I also couldn’t find one that worked for one problem without making the other one worse. In talking casually with girlfriends and many readers of this blog, I realized that lots of women struggle to find a good fit with the Pill… yet we also all take it for granted that it’s The Best Thing Ever For Women’s Health. Because choice and responsibility and empowerment, right? 

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Who Makes Less Than $10.10 per Hour? Women.

Just a quick one because I wanted to share this compelling infographic designed by the National Women’s Law Center. Per the email they sent around:

[Last week] Senator Harkin and Representative Miller introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. This bill would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, then provide for automatic adjustments linked to changes in the cost of living. The bill would also gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at just $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. And let’s not forget President Obama’s words of support for increasing the minimum wage in his most recent State of the Union address. 

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Look For The Helpers.

I know this has already made the rounds on Facebook, but I think it’s worth sharing here, too.

I don’t have to tell you that the story of Sandy Hook is a tragedy beyond comprehension.

But Sandy Hook is also a story of helpers.

And now it is time for all of us to be helpers, too.

Liza Lang was helping when she wrote “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” to show how poorly our country misunderstands, mistreats and ignores people with mental illness.

Mayor Bloomberg and the Campaign of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (and many other activists) are helping by demanding that President Obama and Congress come up with a plan to end gun violence. 

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There Might Have Been A Little Dancing. [Vote Rocked, 2012]

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Let’s Do This! [Obama 2012]

Four years ago, we danced in the streets. Literally. I lived in Harlem in 2008 and when Obama won, you didn’t have a choice — everybody flooded out of their buildings and ran to 125th Street to watch his acceptance speech on the Jumbotron. Black, white, old, young. Strangers were hugging. City bus drivers honked their horns in time to the cheering. I called my dad (who is a professor of civil rights and constitutional law) in Philadelphia and held the phone up to the roaring crowd so we could both hear what history being made sounded like.

Here we are street dancing.

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Who Owns America’s Lighthouses? [Coastal Living, August 2012]

This is a fun one and seems rather apropos for your end-of-summer-enjoyment. Although I’d like to state for the record that I’m blogging this from the back porch because we still have a little summer left so stop rushing me, all you pro-Labor Day/back to school types. We’ll get to your pumpkin lattes and what not soon.

But #endrant — since I’m actually here to tell you about a new article, Who Owns America’s Lighthouses? by moi, coming out in the September 2012 issue of Coastal Living Magazine. I didn’t know, until the CL editors put me on this story, that American lighthouses are in rough shape. At least one-third of our 600-odd collection are no longer active and the Coast Guard can’t afford to keep ‘em up. Enter lighthouse auctions — yep, you can basically buy them on eBay.

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[Inside the Pink Pyramid] Why Mary Kay is Only The Beginning

Investigative Fund Virginia Sole-Smith Mary Kay Direct Sales Industry

 

Today’s look at why Mary Kay is just the tip of a pyramid-shaped iceberg — is brought to you by the Investigative Fund, who asked me to dig deeper into the direct sales industry as a whole. I’ve been getting so many great emails from folks who have read the Harper’s story or heard one of the NPR interviews last week and one thing everyone asks is: “So what about [Avon, Amway, insert-your-direct-sales-of-choice-here]? Are they as bad as Mary Kay?”

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The Pink Pyramid: Paying to Play with Mary Kay [Harper's, August 2012]

Harper's "The Pink Pyramid Scheme" by Virginia Sole-Smith (August 2012) Cover Shot

My new cover story, “The Pink Pyramid Scheme” is out in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine.

This is a big one.

I’ve tracked this story for the past three years, since enrolling in beauty school and discovering that most of my Beauty U classmates moonlighted as salespeople for Mary Kay, Avon or another direct sales cosmetics brand. (An early report of my first Mary Kay encounter appeared on the blog back here.) “The Pink Pyramid Scheme” shares their story, along with the experiences of other Mary Kay ladies who have wound up divorced and in debt — some truly brave women who shared their stories with me even though leaving Mary Kay is, for many, like leaving a bad marriage and a religion combined. Think public ridicule, stigma, guilt, and serious emotional and financial fall-out.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Career Opportunities, Glossed Over, Government Watch, Happenings, Makeup, Mary Kay

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Something I’m Up To: The Economic Hardship Reporting Project

I know, I know. This blog has been a little… quiet… as of late. Does it help to know that I’m thinking about you guys a lot more than I’m actually writing posts? Probably not, and there’s nothing more irritating than those blog posts that are really just “ahhh! soo busy!” excuses, so let’s not even go there. I am tweeting and Facebooking a bunch, and you knowing I’m Pinterest-ing, and hey, I’m even on Instagram now… so at least we’re all keeping up in all of those places.

I’m dropping in now to tell you about one of the things that is keeping me so busy (in an awesome way): The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which is an exciting new journalism nonprofit founded by best-selling investigative journalist Barbara Ehrenreich and the Institute for Policy Studies. Its mission, per the About page, is this:

to force this country’s crisis of poverty and economic insecurity to  the center of the national  conversation. Unemployed, underemployed, and anxiously employed Americans need to know that they are not alone, that the current economic crisis is not their fault and that they are not always getting the information they need to find solutions.  Just telling compelling stories of individuals and families isn’t enough. We want to link such stories to the large picture, as we explore extreme — and deepening — inequality and the decline of the middle class.

And here’s me, over on the contributor page, with a little hint for you about what I’m working on…

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