Book ban attempts soared in 2022
Empty Shelves for Students and Harassed Librarians
Books are being banned across the country and the rise is breathtaking. The American Library Association documented more than 1,200 challenges — a significant rise from 2021’s record-breaking 729 challenges. In 2019, that number was 377. According to the ALA, who released new data earlier this past month, the true number is likely higher since many challenges go unreported.
And what is fueling these numbers? Social media, organized groups, are calling for book bans and restrictions from a conservative political movement “whose goals include removing books addressing race, history, gender identity, sexuality, and reproductive health from America’s public libraries and school libraries that do not meet their approval,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
The ALA’s report also noted that 90 percent of the documented book challenges from last year demanded that multiple library books be censored. Of those, 40 percent wanted to remove or restrict more than 100 books all at once. The association said this is a shift from how challenges were brought forth in prior years; before 2020, the vast majority of challenges came from a single parent concerned by a book their child was able to access. Overall, more than 2,500 unique titles were targeted in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans and restrictions since the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom began keeping track of this data more than 20 years ago. Other books that have been targeted — largely by conservatives — for topics such as race, gender and sexuality include George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”
Steve Newman told us how to worry wisely about AI
While he emphasized that there is a lot we don’t know about future A.I. developments and how to mitigate their dangers, he also pointed out some fundamental limitations of current chatbots. To illustrate how they weren’t able to reason, he demonstrated how they can give contradictory answers within the same paragraph even though they were prompted with a description of their error.
Viewers described his interview as the clearest explanation of how AI works, its capabilities, shortcomings, and future that they have heard. To listen to Steve’s interview on Conversations, click here.
The Debt Ceiling and Ramifications of the Limit, Save, Grow, Act
Background The government has been in a contentious stalemate regarding the deferred debt limit, the budget deficit, and spending priorities. Biden submitted the 2024 budget to Congress on March 9, 2023. The budget details plans to invest in America, lower costs and cut taxes for working families and protect and strengthen Medicare and Social Security. The House Republicans passed the proposal, known as the Limit, Save, Grow Act, (hereafter referred to as Proposal) on April 19, 2023. On 5/2/23 McCarthy and McConnell accepted Biden’s invitation to a meeting regarding the debt ceiling. Because the U.S. does not take in enough revenue to pay for its bills, it periodically borrows money, increasing its debt — which is capped by Congress unless lawmakers raise the limit. The U.S. hit the debt limit, in January. The Treasury Department is temporarily using cash on hand and “extraordinary measures” to pay the federal government’s bills on time and in full until Congress grants it the authority to resume borrowing beyond the current $31.4 trillion limit. Once those are exhausted, the US would start to default on its obligations, which would unleash economic upheaval globally. The US has never defaulted on paying its debts.
The Issue The President as well as the Democrats have repeatedly insisted the debt ceiling should be raised separate from any compromise on government spending and policy. The Proposal holds the country hostage as it makes raising the debt ceiling contingent on accepting the House Republican demands.
In summary, the proposal would “suspend the debt ceiling through either March 31, 2024, or a $1.5 trillion increase from the current $31.4 trillion ceiling – whichever comes first” and return funding to federal agencies to fiscal 2022 levels, while aiming to limit the growth in spending to 1% per year. The Pentagon budget would be spared any reduction. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Analysis of the ProposalThe Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just released its official score of the House Republicans’ Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023. Check out the chart below:
Most of these savings would come from limits on discretionary spending. As identified above, the Act would rescind most of the $80 billion of increased IRS funding authorized in the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA). CBO estimates this policy would worsen the deficit by $120 billion over the next decade by allowing more tax cheating and expanding the tax gap. Every President from Ronald Regan to Joe Biden has supported more IRS funding to reduce the tax gap, and it would be a mistake to reverse this policy. The CBO, “strongly oppose including measures that would worsen the debt as part of this package.”
CBO anticipates that the bill would save $4.8 trillion through FY 2033, with about $4.2 trillion of policy savings and $543 billion of interest savings.
Ramifications of the Budget Cuts identified in the Proposal
Review of the above proposed cuts will drastically impact those most in need of assistance as well as the nonprofits that provide the related services.
Why It Matters
First and foremost, those in need of community services will experience interruptions in those services, such as working families, the poor, those with medical issues and the elderly. According to the National Council of Nonprofits a potential federal government shutdown and significant cuts to programs performed by charitable organizations could increase demand for nonprofit services while reducing the funding for these organizations. Decreased funding for nonprofit organizations will impact the economy. Nationwide, there are 12.3 million nonprofit employees, greater than 10% of the private workforce. The nonprofit sector, as a whole, earns more than 80 percent of its revenue (through fees for services and government contracts and grants), receiving another 14 percent of its revenue thanks to donations by individuals (10.2%), foundations (2.9%), and corporations (0.9%). Lack of adequate staffing and funding means the economy and the public suffer with either delayed or a complete loss of needed services.
Additionally, a decrease in funding for the IRS will continue to impact the country’s ability to collect an increase in revenue.
The best outcome is for Congress to address the debt ceiling separate from the budget cuts to avoid a government shutdown. According to Janet Yellen, Treasury Secretary, the US could hit the debt limit as early as June 1st, Failure to raise the debt limit could lead to catastrophic financial consequences, including the government being unable to pay its bills, such as interest on the debt, and damaging the country’s credit rating, making it more expensive for the government to borrow in the future. This could cause higher interest rates for consumers, businesses, and the government, making it more difficult for the economy to recover from the crisis. It is essential for Congress to prioritize the well-being of the American people by addressing the debt limit promptly and responsibly to ensure the government’s ability to fulfill its obligations and maintain the country’s financial stability. Negotiations on budget cuts and spending priorities in spending should be done separately.
A special note of thanks is in order for PEG Contributor, Leslie Kamil, for taking the time to assemble this information for us! Let us know if you would like the full list of sources that informed this article.
Monday, May 15. Campaign Finance Reform at YDL – Whittaker
Join Voters Not Politicians to learn more about the role of multinational corporate money in politics, how it’s drowning out the voices of voters and what you can do about it. RSVP at www.mobilize.us/vnp/event/561286 . Ypsilanti District Library – Whittaker, 5577 Whittaker Rd, 48197. 6:30–8 pm
Resident input for Early Voting accepted until May 22
Starting with statewide federal elections, residents of Michigan will soon be able to participate in early voting, thanks to the approval of Prop 2 in November 2022. In Ann Arbor, Jackie Beaudry, the A2 City Clerk, is leading an initiative to determine residents’ preferred method of voting. To this end, the city is asking residents to take a six-question survey, which is available on the A2 Open City Hall website and can be completed anonymously.
Thursday, May 25. Washtenaw County Homelessness Policy
Continuum of Care coordinates our community’s policies, strategies, and activities toward ending homelessness. This is your opportunity to get involved! Questions? Email Kristin Kunes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ellen Thompson Women’s Health Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital, 5320 Elliott Dr, Ypsilanti 48197. RSVP at bit.ly/CoC-May 1–4 pm
Visit the PEG Events Page for all upcoming events at www.equalityingov.org/events!
Things to do, read, watch, and listen to
Listen to the song (above). Read the comments from singer/songwriter, S. Lewis
This song is about gun violence in America. I began writing the lyrics in the immediate aftermath of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville where six people, including three nine year olds were killed. I was heartbroken over the sick and senseless deaths that occurred that day and riveted by the subsequent saga of the “Tennessee Three.” I cried with joy when Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were reappointed to their rightful seats in the Tennessee legislature, and re-entered the Capitol with unwavering purpose and determination. I believe these events have been transformative for our nation, starkly illustrating both the fragility of American democracy as well as the brilliant tenacity of hope.
At the same time these dramatic events were unfolding in Tennessee, my own state of Michigan was in the process of passing historic gun safety legislation. On April 13, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Safe Storage and Universal Background Checks bills into law and will soon sign Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation. All of this progress was possible thanks to a state ballot proposal passed in 2018, that amended Michigan’s Constitution, allowing for the creation of fair voting districts by an independent citizens’ redistricting commission. After decades of gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, and legislative inaction, as well as thousands of deaths and injuries from guns, we now have laws on the books that reflect the will of Michigan voters who overwhelmingly support sensible reform. This is a huge victory that will save lives, and could not have happened without the sustained efforts of advocates, gun violence survivors, supportive legislators and, of course, Governor Whitmer.
As I wrote this song, I was acutely aware of the juxtaposition of continued inaction on a federal level and Michigan’s significant steps toward change. The lyrics I have written are meant to underscore the fact that gun violence remains a national emergency, despite the undeniably positive strides we have taken in my home state. Nationally, the leading cause of death in children and teens is firearms. This is both obscene and preventable; however, until we have comprehensive reform on a federal level, we will continue to experience bloodshed on a daily basis. Our work is far from over.
Show MI the Money Lobby Day – Stop Secret Money in Michigan elections
by Leslie McGraw
On behalf of Protectors of Equality in Government (PEG), I joined a group of 10 organizations for Lobby Day in Lansing for the purpose of gaining support among Michigan representatives to curb the dramatic rise of secret money in Michigan elections. In just two years, Michigan DOUBLED its cost for Congressional races. The most sobering statistic I learned last week, however, is that in 2022, legislators in Michigan on average received just 11% of money for their campaigns from the people that they were elected to represent.
I truly believe that every vote counts. But, when dollars develop into major donations, the ‘secret’ or hard-to-trace dollars essentially become votes as well. Requiring disclosure of the original sources of money and messages in our elections will only strengthen our democracy. Photos courtesy of Susan Beckett.
The Latest on Climate Change: Biden Breaks Campaign Promise
by Ellen K. Halter
President Biden’s final approval of the Alaskan Willow Oil Project violates a promise he made during his 2020 presidential campaign when he pledged to end new oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters. The proposed Project has become a lightning rod for environmental concerns about the effect of drilling on the state’s pristine North Slope in the National Petroleum Reserve, owned by the federal government.
Those who support this project, including all three Alaskan lawmakers and a coalition of Native American tribes, argue it would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and be a source of much needed revenue. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska asked, “Why are we not accessing [oil] from a resource where we know our environmental track record is second-to-none?”
But a Native American tribe who live close to the proposed project, opposes it. In a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak protested that the drilling would have a huge impact on her village. “We are at ground zero for the industrialization of the Arctic.”
In addition to the Nuiqsuts, environmental groups such as Earthjustice are horrified by the proposed drilling project, fearing its destruction to the habitats of native species and disruption of migration patterns. Earthjustice is planning to oppose the drilling project in court.
A fiery young woman, Elise Joshi has taken a lead in protesting the proposed drilling. Calling the Willow Oil Project “a carbon bomb,” her video has gone viral on Tiktok. (View the video here.) Arguing that it would “dismantle the air, food, and water quality for both people and caribou that live there,” she encourages her listeners to take action by writing Biden and congress in addition to posting on social media.
Why has Biden agreed to this project which undermines all his professed goals to save the environment? According to the New Yorker, his change of course reflects a new strategy to create a “‘Biden-moves-to-the-center’ narrative” heading into next year’s Presidential election. We can only hope he’s received good advice.
Our Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, received the Brennan Center for Justice 2023 Legacy Award for her superb work defending democracy and elections. Said Michael Waldman, president and CEO of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Her commitment to free, fair, and accurate elections stands as a beacon for the country. At a time when election officials of both parties face new and rising threats, her skill and courage are a model. We appreciate her partnership and are inspired by her leadership.” We in Michigan are proud and appreciative of her efforts, too.
A Michigan First: Mott Foundation $15M Challenge Grant aims to provide Flint moms
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a renowned pediatrician and Associate Dean for Public Health at the MSU College of Human Medicine, leads the Michigan State University-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative. The program, which aims to disrupt the root cause of inequities and disparities by providing funds that families can use for whatever they need most, is a much-needed infusion of joy, hope, and opportunity for the entire city of Flint. The Greater Flint Health Coalition will support outreach and increase awareness of and participation in the program. However, with Flint’s overall childhood poverty rate at approximately 50%, far above the state and national rates, the program needs more funding to reach its goal.
“Economic instability is one of the most profound social determinants of health. Medicine only contributes to about 10 to 15% of health outcomes. All this other stuff: your geography, history, race, drinking water, has a profound role in health and health disparities. These are powerful forces in Flint, (one of) the poorest cit(ies) in our state with a child poverty rate three times the state and national average.” – Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
The groundbreaking initiative includes a growing list of partners and endorsers. The Greater Flint Health Coalition will serve as a key community partner, supporting outreach and increasing awareness of and participation in the program.The project is estimated to cost a total of $55 million for five birth years of mothers and babies. The Mott Foundation is structuring its intended support as a $15 million challenge grant — a one-to-one match that will unlock once Rx Kids raises an additional $15 million from other sources.The Rx Kids team is actively pursuing additional public and private funding for the program. To learn more about Rx Kids, visit www.FlintRxKids.com.
A tribute to Activist Harry Belafonte
A Special Farewell from the PEG Newsletter Team
On April 25, 2023 we said goodnight to a giant. Harry Belafonte was a singer, actor, and civil rights activist who was born in Harlem, New York in 1927. He began his career in the 1940s as a jazz singer and soon became known for his unique style and passionate performances. Throughout his career, Belafonte was a strong advocate for civil rights and worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to promote equality and justice for all.
Belafonte connected Hollywood to the Civil Rights Movement by bringing Tony Bennett, Marlon Brando, and others to the movement, both physically and financially. Among his great deeds, he gave $40,000 to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was led by the late Congressman John Lewis.
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