Good People Doing Good Things — BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS!

Books.  Books are probably the single most important tool we have at our disposal to teach children, to help them grow into their future role in the world.  From books they learn so much … history, different cultures, science, art, literature, and much, much more.  Think back to your own childhood … what would it have been without books?  Today we hear so much from politicians, religious leaders, and even school boards about banning books.  Personally, I think banning books is criminal!  Yes, some books may not be appropriate for very young children, but that is a call to be made by professional educators, not politicians!  Today, I want to introduce you to three young good people who are doing their part to ensure that young people have books to read, to learn and to grow from!  They, perhaps more than any others, are helping to secure the future by providing the means for the next generation to learn.

Rania Zuri (17 | Morgantown, West Virginia) loves reading, but noticed a challenge to many young children across her home state. In 2020, Rania was helping build a small library while volunteering at a local nonprofit when she learned that many of the young girls who would benefit from her work had never owned a book before. After more research, Rania found that not only were many parts of West Virginia “Book Deserts”— geographic area with limited access to age-appropriate books, print materials and reading culture—but many book donation organizations are inaccessible due to a lack of local funding partners. Furthermore, West Virginia has a high rate of families in poverty leaving them without disposable income to buy books, and some towns in the state are so small and remote, they do not have a public library within 50 miles. To help young children have access to books and other reading materials, Rania founded The LiTEArary Society.

The LiTEArary Society is made up of over 50 high school student volunteers who fundraise, purchase, and distribute beloved children’s books. The Society works closely with Head Start, a federal program for children ages 3-5 who live at or below the poverty line. Rania and her team began with three counties that were most in need, including the two counties most impacted by the opioid crisis. As the organization grew, they were able to partner with Barnes and Noble and support children in the Head Start programs across the remaining 52 counties in the state, distributing over 6,000 books. To bring books to even more children, The LiTEArary Society recently launched their “Fifty Nifty Head Start Road Tour” where they aim, with the help of Scholastic and Good Morning America, to support children in every Head Start program across the U.S.

When she and her team are not distributing books, Rania and the LiTEArary Society also host read-a-loud events and bring in authors of the books they distribute to talk with the younger students. Rania has also been hard at work raising awareness of book deserts and how collective action can make a difference through TedX and, most recently, by authoring a U.S. Senate Resolution sponsored by Senator Shelly Capito from West Virginia. The resolution, set to go to the Senate floor this Spring, will establish a special commemorative day to End Book Deserts for Children in Head Start. Scholastic and Barnes and Noble have put their support behind Rania and her resolution, giving the public easy opportunities to carry out The Society’s mission!

Something that Matthew Bordenstein (16 | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) learned during the COVID-19 lockdowns was the vastness of the discrepancy around access to books. This was especially noticeable in Matthew’s hometown where a large number of refugees, including those from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bhutan, Iraq, Morocco, and Myanmar have resettled. English Language Learners (ELLs) are at a disadvantage when attending schools and searching for employment, so Matthew joined the team at Bookworm Global as their Pittsburgh Ambassador to help increase English literacy.

As a Bookworm Global Ambassador, Matthew works with local students to host book drives for readers of all ages and abilities. After each donation event, Matthew will screen the books to ensure that they use language that is culturally sensitive and appropriate, then sort through the books and assign them to their destination. Based on needs from area schools, community organizations, and resettlement agencies, books might support youth through pop-up libraries, after-school programs, summer reading camps, community centers, and tutoring and mentorship programs. Matthew’s programming also supports adult ELLs, giving them the ability to learn or practice reading, speaking, and writing in English as they apply for jobs in their new country.

Since February 2022, Matthew has collected and donated over 4,000 books to youth and adults who have been resettled in the greater Pittsburgh community, and is now considered Bookworm Global’s refugee specialist. As Matthew continues his work, his next goal is to expand his reach so that he is able to provide books to more communities across Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania, as well as provide books in languages other than English. While Matthew is impacted by the story of each person he interacts with, he is most excited that these books are a sign of hope and of the future.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, reading was a big part of being at home for Natasha Agarwal (15 | Estero, Florida). Although she could not physically travel, she felt that she could visit anywhere in the world through a great book. Reading also gave her exposure to new cultures and ways of life. Upon realizing that not everyone has access to books—61% of families considered “low-income” did not have any books in their homes—Natasha wanted to find a way to give others the ability to travel the world by getting lost in a book. In eighth grade, she decided to host a book drive to support younger children in her community. Seeing how successful her book drive was (Natasha collected over 3,000 books) and how passionate her peers were in donating their favorite titles, she launched the nonprofit BelieveNBooks.

Through BelieveNBooks, Natasha aims to lessen the reading gap in Florida by increasing early access to books for children who are underserved or are facing hardships. Studies have shown that the most successful way to improve the reading achievement of children in low-income communities is to increase their access to print materials. They’ve also shown that as the number of books in a child’s home increases, the child’s reading scores also increase. In addition to her book drives, Natasha has also created a digital learning library called PAGETURNER, a YouTube Channel with videos of high school students reading early level children’s books aloud. Pictures of the pages will be projected onto the screen in addition to the audio. To give children the opportunity to read along, Natasha and her team also distribute hard copies of the books featured on the channel.

When Natasha started her nonprofit, she set a goal of distributing 60,000 books by the time she graduates high school in 2025. Having recently donated her 55,000th book, she’s upped her goal, aiming for 100,000 books! Natasha is always looking for ways to involve the community in her work, whether it’s activating her peers in sorting and packing sessions, partnering with schools in neighboring counties to start their own book drives, or finding organizations like the Shelter for Abused Women and Children or the Golisano Children’s Hospital to help her get books into the hands of children. By providing early access to reading materials, Natasha hope that the children she hopes will have a better foundation to help them throughout their time in school and beyond.

The Battle For The Soul Of The Nation

I often find Robert Reich to be one of the most intelligent voices out there, and his offering yesterday was no exception …

The most important battle of our lifetimes

There can be no middle ground in the fight between democracy and authoritarian fascism

By Robert Reich

01 September 2022

One week after a team of F.B.I. agents descended on his private club and residence in Florida, Trump warned that things could get out of hand if the Justice Department kept the heat on him. “People are so angry at what is taking place,” Trump told Fox News, predicting that if the “temperature” isn’t brought down, “terrible things are going to happen.”

But Trump and his allies are doing all they can to increase the temperature. Last Sunday, one of Trump’s closest allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, warned of “riots in the streets” if Trump is prosecuted.

On Tuesday, Trump spent much of the morning reposting messages from known purveyors of the QAnon conspiracy theory and from 4chan, an anonymous message platform where threats of violence often bloom. Some of Trump’s reposts were direct provocations, such as a photograph of President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi with their faces obscured by the words, “Your enemy is not in Russia.”

Online threats are escalating against public servants. Bruce E. Reinhart, the federal magistrate judge who approved the warrant to search Mar-a-Lago, has been targeted with messages threatening him and his family.

How to respond to this lawlessness? With bold and unwavering law enforcement.

If Trump has broken the law – by attempting a coup, by instigating an assault on the U.S. Capitol, by making off with troves of top-secret documents — he must be prosecuted, and if found guilty he must be imprisoned.

Yes, such prosecutions might increase tensions and divisions in the short term. They might provoke additional violence.

But a failure to uphold the laws of the United States would be far more damaging in the longer term. It would undermine our system of government and the credibility of that system — more directly and irreparably than Trump has done.

Not holding a former president accountable for gross acts of criminality will invite ever more criminality from future presidents and lawmakers.

It is also important for all those in public life who believe in democracy to call out what the Republican Party is doing and what it has become: not just its embrace of Trump’s Big Lie but its moves toward voter suppression, takeovers of the machinery of elections, ending of reproductive rights, book bans, restrictions on what can be taught in classrooms, racism, and assaults on LGBTQ people.

Last week, Biden condemned “ultra-MAGA Republicans” for a philosophy he described as “semi-fascism.” Today he will deliver a rare prime-time speech outside the old Independence Hall where the Framers of the Constitution met 235 years ago to establish the basic rules of our democratic form of government. The speech will focus on what the White House describes as the “battle for the soul of the nation” – the fight to protect that democracy.

President Biden’s earlier conciliatory tone and talk of uniting Americans and “healing” the nation from the ravages of Trump has obviously not worked on most of the Republican Party. With the notable and noble exceptions of Liz Cheney and a few other courageous Republicans — most of whom have been or are being purged from the GOP — the Republican Party is rapidly morphing into an anti-democracy movement. With each passing week, it becomes more rabid in its opposition to the rule of law. Republican lawmakers who took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution are repudiating it in word and deed. Republican candidates are lying about the 2020 election and whipping up our fellow countrymen into angry mobs. And as Republican lawmakers and candidates exchange their political integrity for power, Fox News and other rightwing outlets continue to exchange their journalistic integrity for money.

The essential political choice in America, therefore, is no longer Republican or Democrat, right or left, conservative or liberal. It is democracy or authoritarian fascism. There can be no compromise between these two — no halfway point, no “moderate middle,” no “balance.” To come down squarely on the side of democracy is not to be “partisan.” It is to be patriotic.

As Adam Wilkins suggested on this page yesterday, while today’s Republican party does not have its own paramilitary, such as the Nazi’s Brownshirts, the GOP is effectively outsourcing these activities to violent fringe groups such as the “Proud Boys,” “Oathkeepers,” and others who descended on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and who continue to threaten violence.

Yet Democrats cannot and must not take on this battle alone. They must seek common ground with Independents and whatever reasonable Republicans remain. As Eric T noted on this page, we must continue to appeal to truth, facts, logic, and common sense. We must be unwavering in our commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law. We must be clear and courageous in exposing the authoritarian fascist direction the Republican Party has now chosen, and the dangers this poses to America and the world.

It is also important for Democrats to recognize — and to take bold action against — the threat to democracy posed by big money from large corporations and the super-wealthy: record amounts of campaign funding inundating and distorting our politics, serving the moneyed interests rather than the common good.

Indeed, the two threats – one, from an increasingly authoritarian-fascist Republican Party; the second, from ever-larger amounts of corporate and billionaire money in our campaigns and elections – are two sides of the same coin. Americans who know the system is rigged against them and in favor of the moneyed interests, are more likely to give up on democracy and embrace an authoritarian fascist demagogue who pretends to be on “their side.”

The battle to preserve and protect American democracy is the most important battle of our lifetimes. If we win, there is nothing we cannot achieve. If we lose, there is nothing we can achieve.

This, That, And The Other

The news out of Ukraine tonight isn’t good, but yet it could be worse.  Those Ukrainians have spunk and are standing up to Putin and the Russian military in every way possible.  One of my favourite stories is about the 13 Ukrainian soldiers who, when asked to surrender, told the Russian warship crew to “go fuck yourself”.  It was initially reported that the soldiers had been killed, but late last night it was said they are still alive.  And the other story that makes me tip my hat to the people of Ukraine was the elderly man who said to the invading Russians …

“Russians invading Ukraine is so fucked up! What are you doing here? We have our life and you have yours. I’m Russian too, but I live in this country. You have your own country and we have ours. Don’t you have any problems in your own country? Are you all rich there? Shame on you!”

If Putin thought he would simply storm the capital city of Kyiv, capture or kill President Zelenskyy, and then wipe his hands clean, he is finding that not to be the case.  Ukraine is admirably fighting back.  I know we are all keeping the Ukrainians in our hearts and thoughts each day.  I only wish there was something that we could DO.  Meanwhile, on the home front …

The GOP doesn’t know what the people really want!

We are told by Republican politicians that the people in this country do not want their children to learn the truth about this nation’s past, do not want them to be taught about such things as slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK, the brutal treatment of indigenous people, and the Japanese internment.  We are told that parents are up in arms over ‘Critical Race Theory’, which is NOT taught in schools and few people even understand.  We are told that parents want books that talk about any of the aforementioned subject matter banned.  But maybe … just maybe we’ve been lied to.  Oh sure, there are some people who are themselves uncomfortable with the subject of race relations and don’t want to be put in a situation whereby their children might just take a viewpoint opposite their own.  However, it seems the majority of people in the U.S., whether Democrat or Republican, don’t want books banned and do want their children to learn the true history of their home country.  Hmmmm … verrrrry interesting! 🧐

A recent CBS poll on race and education revealed some fascinating facts that run counter to everything the Republican politicos tell us.  In his column yesterday, opinion writer Jamelle Bouie wrote …

“The survey, conducted this month, asked respondents to weigh in on the impact of teaching about race. When asked if “teaching about race in America makes students understand what others went through,” 68 percent of Americans said yes. When asked if this teaching made students “feel guilty about past generations,” 23 percent agreed. Just 16 percent of respondents said that teaching about race makes current students “less racially tolerant.”

When asked if books should ever be banned for “discussing race” or “depicting slavery,” an overwhelming 87 percent of Americans said no. A similarly large percentage said no when asked if books should be banned for “criticizing U.S. history” or sharing “political ideas you disagree with.” And 58 percent of Americans, including 52 percent of white Americans, say that racism is a “major problem” in America today.”

It would appear that the Republican politicians need to listen to the voices of ALL the people, not just the handful of radicals who have been fed a steady diet of Fox propaganda.

Remind me why we pay her a salary?

Ol’ Margie Greene is at it again and this time she has crossed a line as far as I’m concerned.  On Friday, she addressed a group of white supremacists, telling them that …

“You’ve been handed the responsibility to fight for our Constitution and stand for our freedoms and stop the Democrats who are the communist party of the United States of America.”

The event was America First Political Action Committee’s conference, organized by none other than white supremacist (today’s polite name for the KKK) Nick Fuentes.  Call it what you will – ‘white supremacy’, ‘white nationalism’, ‘Ku Klux Klan’ … a rose by any other name …

Margie Greene has been useless since the day she first set foot in the Capitol.  She has no committee assignments due to her incendiary comments and support of violence against Democrats.  The only thing I can figure she spends her time on is giving inflammatory, racist speeches like the one on Friday.  For a while, she and the equally conscienceless Matt Gaetz were touring the country … the Matt & Margie show … but that was cancelled due to lack of interest.

Another speaker at the Klan rally on Friday was Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona.  One speech I found should be grounds for imprisonment, for threatening a person’s life, for inciting violence, was that of far-right podcaster Stew Peters who called for lynching Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying …

“Tony Fauci literally unleashed a bio weapon on the world. Why is this man running around free instead of hanging on the end of a noose somewhere?”

The bigger question is why isn’t Mr. Peters in prison somewhere?  I guarantee that if you or I uttered such a hateful, felonious statement, it would be a matter of minutes before the FBI showed up on our doorstep!  Are the rules different for bigoted Klansmen?

A Chuckle For The Day

I thought a bit of timely humour would be good today.  Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.  While there isn’t much to laugh about in the news these days, sometimes I think we need to laugh anyway … or at least chuckle.

‘Let’s ban algebra, too!’ adds Fla. legislator who is clearly not three kids in a trench coat

By Alexandra Petri


TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators are working hard to pass a bill that, as the Associated Press observed, would “prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel ‘discomfort’ when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in the nation’s past.”

“This is good,” added one legislator, in a trench coat and hat, whose voice sounded somewhat muffled, as though it came from around his rib cage. “But it doesn’t go far enough.” His whole body swayed and undulated strangely.

“Yes!” his head added. “It is good, but we need to pass more laws.”

“More?” one of his colleagues inquired, handing him a drink of water. He missed grabbing the water the first time and then poured it all over his face and body, and a voice from beneath his belt said, “Stop it, Jeremy!”

“History is good to ban, but it is not enough,” the legislator said, when he had composed himself. “History is actually way less discomfortable than lots of other subjects, and if we are really serious about ending discomfort, we should ban those first.”

“Go on!” his colleague said excitedly. A small crowd was beginning to form around him.

“The book bans are good,” the legislator’s midsection went on, while his hands attempted to straighten his hat but knocked it off instead. “Less reading is good. English is a big source of discomfort.”

“Yes!” one of his colleagues agreed, picking up the hat and handing it to him, which only took three tries. Several other legislators nodded aggressively. “They are trying to indoctrinate our youth with critical race theory, and we won’t let them! They want White people to learn about events that happened in the past, which causes discomfort, and we will not have it!”

“It’s not just learning about events that happened in the past that makes you feel discomfort,” the mysterious legislator in the trench coat said. “Algebra actually causes way more discomfort than history.”

“And geometry,” his rib cage added.

“And biology!” his face continued. “The law is good because it sounds like history is pretty much banned, but what about math? What about science? What about the part of science where sometimes they make you dissect a frog?”

“Or P.E.!” his midsection shouted.

“We should have clearer laws against all of those, so that people don’t feel discomfort. White people, Black people, people in general.”

“And pop quizzes,” said his head. “And French. And book reports!”

His colleagues nodded uncertainly.

“We’ve got to protect everyone from discomfort at all costs,” the legislator went on. “That’s the most important thing. That’s what people need to do right now. Make clear laws against any subject that could possibly cause discomfort.”

He produced a list that was written in pencil on a sheet of graph paper that said, “More Subjects To Ban To Preserve Freedom,” which appeared to be just a list of every subject taught in middle school, with a crudely drawn picture of Naruto in the corner.

“Thank you for this,” his colleague said. “We are going to give this the consideration it deserves.”

Another legislator looked puzzled. “But then, what will they learn?” he asked.

But the legislator in the trench coat with the good ideas had already vanished as mysteriously as he had come.