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Understanding the Student Debt Problem: How big is it and how should we address the problem?

(aka The Student Loan Program)

Student debt has more than doubled over the last two decades. As of September 2022, about forty-eight million U.S. borrowers collectively owed more than $1.6 trillion in federal student loans. Additional private loans bring that total to above $1.7 trillion, surpassing auto loans and credit card debt.

Why Aren’t Student Loans Simple? Because This Is America. (Ron Lieber,Student Loan Debt Relief, NY Times, 9-3-22) Instead of making higher education free, we subsidize it later through repayment plans and attempts at debt cancellation. The complexity is disrespectful. If we want higher education to cost less, we should make it cheaper when people enroll.
The Subprime Loans for College Hiding in Plain Sight (Ron Lieber, Student Loan Debt Relief, NY Times, 9-17-22) Many families can borrow most of the cost of college using a Parent PLUS loan. This will not end well.

       “The honest truth is that Congress created a subprime lending program unintentionally,” said Rachel Fishman of New America, the left-leaning think tank. Most parents don’t pay for college using this loan. But about 3.6 million of them — with about $107 billion in outstanding debt — have. Within that group are a number of low-income Black families at schools that may not have given their kids enough help in the way of scholarships. Many of those families are struggling to repay the money that the federal government so freely offered up.

         An Urban Institute report from 2019 summed up the sorry state of affairs in this way: Parent PLUS loans are “a no-strings attached revenue source for colleges and universities, with the risk shared only by parents and the government.” "Unlike student loans ... Parent PLUS loans are not going to help them earn more. Repayment can last up to 25 years, which can push the bills well into what are supposed to be the retirement years."
Is Rising Student Debt Harming the U.S. Economy? (Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, 10-20-22) Covers the main issues and links to many other articles, from various angles, about the student debt problem.
Three Questions About Student Debt Forgiveness (Roger W. Ferguson Jr., Council on Foreign Relations, 9-6-22) What is the rationale behind President Biden's recent student debt relief announcement, who benefits and pays for it, and finally, what might be some unintended consequences from it? The Biden program might be overly generous, particularly given the strongest argument for such a program is to help the neediest. Most importantly, the fundamental weaknesses of the American higher education system—low completion rate, dependence on loans, and rapidly increasing college costs—still need to be addressed.
Defending Student Loan Cancellation (National Consumer Law Center, 2-28-23) Two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court challenge President Biden’s transformational plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for eligible borrowers. The outcome of these cases will affect millions of borrowers who are eligible for relief. National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) experts are providing analysis and resources about the cases: Biden v. Nebraska (22-506) and Department of Education v. Brown (22-535). Excellent links and references, especially for students seriously debating the issues.
Biden’s Student Loan Plan Squarely Targets the Middle Class (Jim Tankersley, NY Times, 8-25-22) The big winners from Mr. Biden’s student loan plan are not rich graduates of Harvard and Yale, as many critics claim. It's the middle class. Independent analysts suggest this would be his most targeted assistance yet to middle-class workers — while trying to repair what he casts as a broken bridge to the middle class.
Biden’s Student Debt Relief Program Is Excellent, but Student Loans Suck to Begin With (Timothy Noah, New Republic, 8-24-22) Bernie Sanders got this right: We’ll have to make college free, or close to it. Student loans were an invention of the conservative economist Milton Friedman and that they turned out to be a poor substitute for the direct investment in higher education that Friedman succeeded in averting—in large part because the loans never managed to impose the market efficiencies Friedman predicted. The student loan model is unsustainable and the time to shift toward debt-free access to higher education is now, before the whole thing collapses.
Beware of Scammers Trying to Capitalize on Student Loan Forgiveness (Ann Carrns, NY Times, 9-2-22) The recent action on student debt is fodder for spam callers, who often try to trick borrowers into paying for loan cancellation.
What About Tackling the Causes of Student Debt? (Kevin Carey, NY Times, 11-18-2020) Pros and cons of loan forgiveness aside, there’s a more fundamental problem.

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How the Biden Administration Can Free Americans from Student Debt (Astra Taylor, New Yorker, 11-23-2020) The books and authors referred to: Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber and Can't Pay, Won't Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition by Collective Debt
Who owes all that student debt? And who’d benefit if it were forgiven? (Adam Looney, David Wessel, and Kadija Yilla, Policy2020, Brookings,1-28-2020)
President-elect Joe Biden says student loan forgiveness does figure in his economic plan: "It should be done immediately." (Tweet, Good Morning America, 11-16-2020) Read the comments.

Dept. of Education Fail: Teachers Lose Grants, Forced to Repay Thousands in Loans (Cory Turner and Chris Arnold, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, 3-28-18) "Without any notice, [my grant] was suddenly a loan, and interest was already accruing on it," says Maggie Webb, who teaches eighth-grade math in Chelsea, Mass. "So, my $4,000 grant was now costing me $5,000."
     Since 2008, the Education Department has offered these so-called TEACH grants to people studying to get a college or master's degree. The deal is, they get to keep the grant money if they spend four years teaching a high-need subject like math or science in schools that serve low-income families.
If they don't keep their end of the bargain, the grants convert to loans that need to be paid back. But, the study finds, many teachers believe they kept their end of the bargain but are now being asked to repay that money anyway.
        Some early red flags were raised a few years ago by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO investigated the TEACH grant program and noted that teachers were improperly having their grants taken away. At least 2,252 grants were erroneously converted to loans by the servicer. Part of a special NPR series, The Trouble With TEACH Grants (click on that link to get to the full series).
Were Your TEACH Grants Converted To Loans While You Were Teaching at a Qualifying School? (Chris Arnold, NPR, 12-9-18)
Teachers, Lawyers and Others Worry About the Fate of Student Debt Forgiveness (Anya Kamenetz, NPR, 4-5-17)

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Teachers With Student Debt: These Are Their Stories (Elissa Nadworny and Julie Depenbrock, Morning Edition, NPR, 7-26-17) Teachers have one of the lowest-paid professional jobs in the U.S. You need a bachelor's degree, which can be costly — an equation that often means a lot of student loans. Factors that make teaching vulnerable to a ton of debt include chronically low teacher pay, the increasing pressure to get a master's degree, and the many ways to repay loans or apply for loan forgiveness.
Student Loans: To Solve the Problem, Understand the History (Chad Chubb, Kiplinger, 6-10-19) If you plan on making $60,000 out of college, you should not take on more than $60,000 in loans. If you plan to make $60,000, but your education will cost $180,000, don’t do it!
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Debt to Me (MH Miller, The Baffler, also a Guardian Long Read: The Inescapable Weight of My $100,000 Student Debt, ) M.H. Miller (the arts editor for The New York Times Style Magazine) left university with with more than $100,000 of debt, for which her father was a cosigner. "In a matter of months, my father had lost everything he had worked most of his adult life to achieve—first his career, then his home, then his dignity....The delicate balancing act my family and I perform in order to make a payment each month has become the organizing principle of our lives...The foundational myth of an entire generation of Americans was the false promise that education was priceless—that its value was above or beyond its cost."

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•  The Student Debt Problem Is Worse Than We Imagined (Ben Miller, NY Times, 8-25-18) New data reveals how colleges are benefiting from billions in financial aid while students are left with debt they cannot repay. The new data makes clear that the federal government overlooks early warning signs by focusing solely on default rates over the first three years of repayment. That's the time period Congress requires the Department of Education to use when calculating default rates. For-profit institutions have particularly awful results."The secret to avoiding accountability? Colleges are aggressively pushing borrowers to use repayment options known as deferments or forbearances that allow borrowers to stop their payments without going into delinquency or defaulting. Nearly 20 percent of borrowers at schools that had high default rates at year five but not at year three used one of these payment-pausing options."
Student Loan Debt Can Sink Your Retirement Plan (Harriet Edleson, AARP, 9-18-18) If you've defaulted on a federal student loan, beware: The federal government can take up to 15 percent of your Social Security benefit. ... Most of those whose Social Security money was seized were receiving disability benefits, rather than retirement or survivor benefits, the GAO report said.
An Administrative Path to Student Debt Cancellation (PDF, report by Luke Herrine, Greater Democracy Initiative, Dec. 2019)
Is Student Loan Forgiveness Worth It? – Pros & Cons (Sarah Graves, Money Crashers) Followed by links to additional stories.

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Who to use for audiobook distribution

I can produce an audiobook myself, but will any of the audiobook companies agree to distribute it, or must it be produced "in-house"?


Guest post by Maggie Lynch


If your audiobook is being produced by an audio publisher, they have their own distribution sources.


If you are doing the audiobook yourself or hiring a narrator and you will get the physical files to distribute, I would recommend Findaway Voices. They have the largest audio distribution market. The larger company, Findaway, merged with Spotify in 2022 so their distribution is even stronger and they are trying new marketing options to capitalize on that relationship.


Another good audio distribution service is Author's Republic. They have a great reputation for clear communication and monthly royalty payments and they distribute to about 50 places. Every author I know who uses them loves them.


Publish Drive, Lantern Audio (used to be Listen Up), and BookBaby also have good reputations, distribute books to the big guys, and then use Findaway to reach the rest of the places. My thought is, why not just go with Findaway to begin with.


You can load directly to the big places like Amazon (Audible),  Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple, but I personally find that too time- consuming, and if you want to make changes in metadata—cover, pricing, description, etc.—it's a lot of places to go to. I'd rather have a book in one place with wide distribution so I can make changes at any time and know it will populate to all the distributors they cover.

You can learn more about Maggie Lynch here.

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What are the differences between IngramSpark and Lightning Source for self-publishing authors?

Answer from David Kudler, publisher at Stillpoint Digital Press:

Lightning Source (LSI) and IngramSpark (IS) are both portals offered by Ingram Content Group (the world's largest book distributor) to access their print-on-demand (POD) and distribution services. They are very similar, but have a few minor differences.

LSI is older — it was a standalone company founded in 1996 and acquired by Ingram about fifteen years ago. It was intended to offer publishers of all sizes POD services — especially useful for low-selling backlist titles, but also for popular titles that outsold their print runs.      


Ingram started IS in 2013 specifically as a service to the burgeoning micro- and self-publishing community — allowing them access to the same POD and worldwide distribution as major publishers, and allowing them to release their books in print without the high-risk investment of printing thousands of copies of their books (and then having to store them and ship them).


They both use the same worldwide network of printing plants. They both offer the same access to Ingram's distribution network. The print quality is the same.

There are differences between the two portals, reflecting their different origins.
      LSI allows the publisher to offer discounts from the industry-standard 55% (which ends up being a 40% discount to retailers) down to 20% (8% retail discount). IS has a set 55% discount. (Some publishers like to be able to lower the discount in order to drop the price for certain books. It generally means you won't get the book into any brick-and-mortar stores or libraries, but they may not be your target anyway.)
     IS offers ebook distribution (they take a higher than standard 20% cut); LSI is print-only.
     LSI charges an annual $12 "catalog" fee for each edition, and has slightly higher fees for revising your books (I avoid the setup fees as a member of IBPA).
     LSI offers printing discounts on titles that sell well (BoLT).
     As of this month, ScribeCount (the online sales tracking service) imports sales from IS, but you have to hand-enter them for LSI. Other than that, they're essentially the same.
     I use LSI, but only because I started before IS existed. I have played with "short" discounts, but mostly stick to the standard 55%. The ScribeCount situation has me seriously considering switching, but… if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


     For what it's worth, I strongly recommend that my clients use IS rather than LSI to distribute to the book trade — it's easier to set up, has slightly lower costs, and most of the high-end features of LSI aren't going to come into play. Then we use Amazon's KDP Print to distribute to Jeff Bezos's domain.

    Ebooks, of course, are another issue altogether.


    Thanks for permission to reprint this useful post to David Kudler.

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Artificial intelligence (AI) What problems does it bring? solve? What the heck is a bot?

This replaces an early version of this post that appeared in June 2018. 

Admitting to myself that I had no idea what AI is was the first step. This is what I learned:

You can skip the basics upfront to get to articles about AI's effect on our lives.


The Basics about AI
What is AI? Everything you need to know about Artificial Intelligence (Nick Heath, ZDNet, 2-2-18) An executive guide to artificial intelligence, from machine learning and general AI to neural networks.

What is an Internet bot? (Wikipedia) An Internet bot, web robot, robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet, usually with the intent to imitate human activity on the Internet, such as messaging, on a large scale.
What is a bot: types and functions (Digital Guide IONOS UK, 11-16-21) What is a bot, what functions can it perform, and what does its structure consist of? Learn about Rule-based bots and self-learning bots, the different types of good bots, the different types of malware bots, and how they work. What types of attacks can botnets perform?
ChatGPT (AI) This chatbot launched by OpenAI in November 2022 is being used to write novels, among other things. It has a problem with factual accuracy. See also section on this website on ChatGPT (AI)


Writers/journalists/creators and artificial intelligence and issues like copyright protection and how frank creators must be about using AI
A crash course for journalists on AI and machine learning (Video, 51 min., International Journalism Festival, 4-7-22)

AI Art for Authors: Which Program to Use (Jason Hamilton, Kindlepreneur, 12-9-22) There are dozens of AI art tools out there, many with unique specialties. But most would agree that three stand up above the rest:
    Dall-E 2
    Stable Diffusion.

Hamilton discusses how to access them, what they cost, how they can be useful, and why he recommends them (or not, and what for, illustrated), with a final section on AI art's copyright problems: Are they copying exist art on the collage principle (a little here, a little there), or are they facing legal and copyright problems?
Artificial Labor (Ed Zitron's Where's Your Ed At, 5-12-23) With the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, "we are entering a historical battle between actual labor – those who create value in organizations and the world itself – and the petty executive titans that believe that there are no true value creators in society, only “ideas people” and those interchangeable units who carry out their whims...The television and film industries are controlled by exceedingly rich executives that view entertainment as something that can (and should) be commoditized and traded, rather than fostered and created by human beings. While dialogue eventually has to be performed by a human being, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers clearly views writing (and writers) as more of a fuel that can be used to create products rather than something unique or special....entertainment’s elites very clearly want to be able to use artificial intelligence to write content."

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The Fanfic Sex Trope That Caught a Plundering AI Red-Handed (Rose Eveleth, Wired, 5-15-23) Sudowrite, a tool that uses OpenAI’s GPT-3, was found to have understood a sexual act known only to a specific online community of Omegaverse writers. The data set that was used to train most (all?) text-generative AI includes sex acts found only in the raunchiest of fanfiction. "What if your work exists in a kind of in-between space—not work that you make a living doing, but still something you spent hours crafting, in a community that you care deeply about? And what if, within that community, there was a specific sex trope that would inadvertently unmask how models like ChatGPT scrape the web—and how that scraping impacts the writers who created it. (H/T Nate Hoffelder, Morning Coffee)
AI art tools Stable Diffusion and Midjourney targeted with copyright lawsuit (James Vincent, The Verge, 1-16-23) The suit claims generative AI art tools violate copyright law by scraping artists’ work from the web without their consent. Butterick and Saveri are currently suing Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI in a similar case involving the AI programming model CoPilot, which is trained on lines of code collected from the web.
The lawsuit that could rewrite the rules of AI copyright (James Vincent, The Verge, 11-8-22) Microsoft, its subsidiary GitHub, and its business partner OpenAI have been targeted in a proposed class action lawsuit alleging that the companies’ creation of AI-powered coding assistant GitHub Copilot relies on ---“software piracy on an unprecedented scale.”

---"Someone comes along and says, 'Let's socialize the costs and privatize the profits.'"

---“This is the first class-action case in the US chal­leng­ing the train­ing and out­put of AI sys­tems. It will not be the last.”
The scary truth about AI copyright is nobody knows what will happen next (James Vincent, The Verge, 11-15-22) The last year has seen a boom in AI models that create art, music, and code by learning from others’ work. But as these tools become more prominent, unanswered legal questions could shape the future of the field.

Wendy’s to test AI chatbot that takes your drive-thru order (St. Louis-Post Dispatch) (Erum Salam, The Guardian, 5-10-23) 'The Guardian' reports that Wendy's is ready to roll out an artificial-intelligence-powered chatbot capable of taking customers' orders. Pilot program ‘seeks to take the complexity [the humans] out of the ordering process’
In a Reminder of AI's Limits, ChatGPT Fails Gastro Exam (Michael DePeau-Wilson, MedPage Today, 5-22-23) Both versions of the AI model failed to achieve the 70% accuracy threshold to pass.
Some companies are already replacing workers with ChatGPT, despite warnings it shouldn’t be relied on for ‘anything important’ (Trey Williams, Fortune, 2-25-23)
‘The Godfather of A.I.’ Leaves Google and Warns of Danger Ahead (NY Times, 5-1-23) For half a century, Geoffrey Hinton nurtured the technology at the heart of chatbots like ChatGPT. Now he worries it will cause serious harm.
Teaching A.I. Systems to Behave Themselves (Cade Metz, NY Times, 8-13-17)

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On the plus or minus side:
Smarter health: How AI is transforming health care (Dorey Scheimer, Meghna Chakrabarti, and Tim Skoog, On Point, first piece in a Smarter Health series, WBUR radio, 5-27-22, with transcript) Guests Dr. Ziad Obermeyer (associate professor of health policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. Emergency medicine physician) and Richard Sharp (director of the biomedical ethics research program at the Mayo Clinic, @MayoClinic) explore the potential of AI in health care — from predicting patient risk, to diagnostics, to just helping physicians make better decisions.
Artificial Intelligence Is Primed to Disrupt Health Care Industry (Ben Hernandez, ETF Trends, 7-12-15) Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the prime technologies leading the wave of disruption that is going on within the health care sector. Recent studies have shown that AI technology can outperform doctors when it comes to cancer screenings and disease diagnoses. In particular, this could mean specialists such as radiologists and pathologists could be replaced by AI technology. Whether society is ready for it or not, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, or any other type of disruptive technology will be the next wave of innovation.
How will large language models (LLMs) change the world? (Dynomight Internet Newsletter, The Browser, 12-8-22) Think about historical analogies for 'large language models': the ice trade and freezers; chess humans and chess AIs; farmers and tractors; horses and railroads; swords and guns; swordfighting and fencing; artisanal goods and mass production; site-built homes and pre-manufactured homes; painting and photography; feet and Segways; gull-wing and scissor doors; sex and pornography; human calculators and electronic calculators.

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Artificial You: AI and the Future of Your Mind by Susan Schneider. Can robots really be conscious? Is the mind just a program? "Schneider offers sophisticated insights on what is perhaps the number one long-term challenge confronting humanity."―Martin Rees
Top 9 ethical issues in artificial intelligence (Julia Bossmann, World Economic Forum, 10-21-16) In brief: unemployment, income inequality, humanity, artificial stupidity (mistakes), racist robots (AI bias), security (safety from adversaries), evil genies (unintended consequences), singularity, robot rights. She makes interesting points!
AI in the workplace: Everything you need to know (Nick Heath, ZDNet, 6-29-18) How artificial intelligence will change the world of work, for better and for worse. Bots and virtual assistants, IoT and analytics, and so on.
What is the IoT? Everything you need to know about the Internet of Things right now (Steve Ranger, ZDNet, 1-19-18) The Internet of Things explained: What the IoT is, and where it's going next. "Pretty much any physical object can be transformed into an IoT device if it can be connected to the internet and controlled that way. A lightbulb that can be switched on using a smartphone app is an IoT device, as is a motion sensor or a smart thermostat in your office or a connected streetlight. An IoT device could be as fluffy as a child's toy or as serious as a driverless truck, or as complicated as a jet engine that's now filled with thousands of sensors collecting and transmitting data. At an even bigger scale, smart cities projects are filling entire regions with sensors to help us understand and control the environment."
Beyond the Hype of Machine Learning (Free download, GovLoop ebook, 15-minute read) Read about machine learning's impact in the public sector, the 'how' and 'why' of artificial intelligence (AI), and how the Energy Department covers the spectrum of AI usage.

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Can Artificial Intelligence Keep Your Home Secure? (Paul Sullivan, NY Times, 1-29-18) Security companies are hoping to harness the potential of A.I., promising better service at lower prices. But experts say there are risks.
What will our society look like when Artificial Intelligence is everywhere? (Stephan Talty, Smithsonan, April 2018) Will robots become self-aware? Will they have rights? Will they be in charge? Here are five scenarios from our future dominated by AI.
Amazon Is Latest Tech Giant to Face Staff Backlash Over Government Work (Jamie Condliffe, NY times, 6-22-18) Tech "firms have built artificial intelligence and cloud computing systems that governments find attractive. But as these companies take on lucrative contracts to furnish state and federal agencies with these technologies, they’re facing increasing pushback  Read More 

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The problem with FOSTA/SESTA (legislation to curb sex trafficking online)

FOSTA/SESTA. A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it (Aja Romano, Vox, 7-2-18) Trump signed into law a set of controversial bills intended to make it easier to cut down on illegal sex trafficking online. Both bills — the House bill known as FOSTA, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and the Senate bill, SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act — have been hailed by advocates as a victory for sex trafficking victims, but the law doesn’t appear to do anything concrete to target illegal sex trafficking directly, and instead threatens to “increase violence against the most marginalized.” And makes it a lot easier to censor free speech on small websites — as evidenced by the immediate ramifications the law has had across the internet, affecting such sites as Reddit, Craigslist, and Google.
Public Law 115–164—APR. 11, 2018, 115th Congress An Act To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to clarify that section 230 of such Act does not prohibit the enforcement against providers and users of interactive computer services of Federal and State criminal and civil law relating to sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking, and for other purposes.
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation's constitutional challenge to FOSTA/SESTA Woodhull has filed a lawsuit against the legislation.
"Two highly controversial, harmful, and misleading bills, the House bill known as FOSTA, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and the Senate bill, SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (collectively known as SESTA/FOSTA) represent the most broadly-based censorship of Internet speech in the last 20 years. The law did not succeed at its disingenuously stated purpose – to end human trafficking for sex. That goal was a complete failure.
     "What SESTA/FOSTA did do was drive large swaths of constitutionally-protected speech off the Internet. Even the Department of Justice warned Congress about the overreaching provisions of the law before it was passed. But Congress went ahead and voted this massive travesty into law." You can read about Woodhull's lawsuit against the legislation here.

Specifically, FOSTA:
1. creates new criminal and civil liability for website operators who host third-party content that “promotes or facilitates the prostitution of another person,”
2. expands criminal and civil liability such that any speaker online who allegedly “promotes” or “facilitates” sex trafficking can be treated as though they are participating in “a venture” with those who are directly engaged in trafficking,
3. removes protections for websites whose users’ speech might be seen as in violation of the law,
4. applies to speech that occurred even before FOSTA was enacted. That means anyone who operates an online platform is now liable for online speech that occurred well before Congress passed the law – so it violates the Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws.

Know Your Rights (Survivors Against Sesta site, archived) "Even though we have formally sunset as an organizing formation, we are still maintaining the instagram account @survivorsagainstsesta to amplify and promote SWer led actions and initiatives around the country/globe. Feel free to continue to send those requests for signal boosting to us via DM on that platform."
What Is Sesta/Fosta (sourced with permission by Hacking/Hustling). "Section 5 of the law states: ENSURING FEDERAL LIABILITY FOR PUBLISHING INFORMATION DESIGNED TO FACILITATE SEX TRAFFICKING OR OTHERWISE FACILITATING SEX TRAFFICKING. This Act also makes allowances for States Attorneys to specially prosecute these cases. It is a very vaguely worded law, but its specified targets are online platforms, websites, companies/corporations behind site hosting.
What has FOSTA/SESTA criminalized?
      "This bill has expanded liability for internet platforms which host content generated by third parties around holding that information. While the bill creates liability for those websites for “knowingly facilitating sex trafficking,” there is not clarity for what that means. It also allows more people to file civil suits against websites.
      "People who own/operate/maintain websites which host third party content, listservs, (and maybe apps? Jury’s still out… or hasn’t been bought in yet), which promote and facilitate prostitution are subject to a federal crime. What’s facilitating prostitution? Also unclear. The bill being vague is a part of the problem."

       "Individual workers are not directly in the line of fire because of SESTA/FOSTA."
More Evidence that FOSTA Benefited No One (Eric Goldman, Technology & Marketing Law Blog, 10-15-22) "FOSTA did not permanently reduce the volume of ads for commercial sex. The quantity bounced back after FOSTA, but distributed across more sites. ...as predicted for Congress, FOSTA scattered the ads worldwide rather than changing any of the underlying supply or demand factors.

    "FOSTA did not suppress commercial sex ads and it did not increase sex trafficking enforcement. The paper suggests that maybe FOSTA didn’t make things worse for women based solely on homicide and rape metrics, but (1) this ignores the impacts on male sex workers entirely, and (2) sex workers experienced many other physical, psychological, emotional, and financial harms due to FOSTA. The paper also does not model FOSTA’s detrimental impacts on speech, which continue to reverberate today.

Decriminalize Sex Work FAQs about the decriminalization of sex work.The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), signed into law, effectively suspend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which stipulates that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

       In simpler terms, it allows user-generated speech, such as comment sections and discussion boards, to remain uncensored.
      SESTA/FOSTA amends Section 230 by suspending its protection in cases where online platforms are perceived to be promoting prostitution.
      Online providers can now be held liable for posts perceived to be advertising sex on their sites. State law enforcement can prosecute these cases at their discretion.
SESTA Bill Will Not Prevent Sex Trafficking But Will Silence Online Speech (National Coalition Against Censorship) "While the sponsors of these bills contend that they are aimed at stopping sex trafficking, neither bill actually helps sex trafficking victims confront their abusers and instead both focus on curtailing online speech. Even sex workers oppose the bills, which are likely to make consensual sex work more dangerous. The National Coalition Against Censorship joins with our allies in the free speech community to oppose this bill." See From Section 230 to The EARN IT Act and still controversial (blog post with links to more on this issue)

Sex trafficking law looms large over latest bid to weaken Section 230 (Cristiano Lima, Washington Posst, 2-10-22) "In 2018, Congress passed FOSTA-SESTA, a contentious measure that opened digital services up to lawsuits if they knowingly facilitated sex trafficking on their sites. Despite its aims, critics warned that the measure could have an unintended chilling effect on free speech and harm sex workers trying to safely communicate online.
     "Now, civil liberties advocates, human rights groups and tech industry leaders are again sounding the alarm that the new bill could endanger the people it’s seeking to protect.
     "The legislation, called the EARN IT Act, would create a commission tasked with issuing recommendations to platforms on how to best curtail child abuse on their products. It would open platforms up to liability under any federal and state civil laws, as well as state criminal laws, related to hosting child abuse material. (Section 230 allows for liability under federal criminal law.)

• "SESTA/FOSTA Explained (Decriminalize Sex Work) This group explains how FOSTA/SESTA endangers sex workers, keeps victims of human trafficking in danger, and censors free speech on the Internet.

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What the 'Culture Wars' Are About

Subtopics: Row v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, abortion, same-sex marriage, race and the 1619 Project, George Floyd, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, recreational drug use, homosexuality, censorship and banned books, climate change (in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty), pedophilia, gender identity, gay people, Trump and January 6th, academic freedom, teacher tenure, student rights, campus free speech, educational gag orders, whether the study of American history should be a "celebratory" or "critical" undertaking, separation of church and state, and orthodox Christian positions on premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and divorce. Anything else?

Heather Cox Richardson (Letters from an American, 5-2-21) on Republican attitudes toward multiculturalism. 'On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 36 Republicans sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona accusing him of trying to advance a “politicized and divisive agenda” in the teaching of American history. This is a full embrace of the latest Republican attempt to turn teaching history into a culture war....

     "The prime object of Republican anger is the 1619 Project, called out in McConnell’s letter by name. The project launched in the New York Times Magazine in August 2019 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the first landing of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans at the English colony of Virginia....

     'The 1619 Project argued that the landing of the Black slaves marked “the country’s very origin” since it “inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years.” ...The Pulitzer Center, which supports journalism but is not associated with Columbia University’s Pulitzer Prizes, produced a school curriculum based on the 1619 Project; Republican legislators in five states—Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Dakota—filed virtually identical bills to cut funding to any school or college that used the material.'
Why Republicans are obsessed with pedophilia, gender identity, gay people, and abortion (Robert Reich, 5-7-22) "Voters, don't be deflected by “culture war” messages intended to deflect the public’s attention from how badly big corporations and the super wealthy are shafting them. Americans won’t understand how these economic abuses all relate to record amounts of income and wealth at the top, and what must be done to reverse this imbalance (break up monopolies, enact a windfall profits tax, raise taxes on large corporations and the super wealthy, strengthen labor unions, reform campaign finance, stop corporate welfare, and so on).
      "Oh, and by focusing on pedophilia, gender identity, gay people, and abortion, Republicans don’t have to talk about Trump and January 6."
With Rising Book Bans, Librarians Have Come Under Attack (Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter, NY Times, 6-7-22) Caustic fights over which books belong on the shelves have put librarians at the center of a bitter and widening culture war. The reporters spoke to two dozen librarians and library associations across the country for this article. For more on the topic, see Banned and challenged books with links to articles on

---Lists of banned and challenged books

---What you can do to fight book bans and challenges

---Academic freedom, teacher tenure, student rights, campus free speech, and educational gag orders.
The Next Culture War (David Brooks, NYTimes, 6-30-15) "Christianity's gravest setbacks are in the realm of values. American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social issues... [Many] conservatives are enmeshed in a decades-long culture war that has been fought over issues arising from the sexual revolution....Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution....Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose."
---Okay, David Brooks, Which Culture War Should We Fight? (Joe Rigney, The Federalist, 7-2-15) "Isn't the sexual revolution one of the main culprits (aided and abetted by presumptuous Supreme Court decisions that insist on removing these debates from the democratic process, with Roe and Obergefell at the top of the list)?... But we social conservatives, and especially those of us who are Christians, recognize deep connections among these issues, many of them having to do with what sex is for, what marriage is for, indeed what people are for."
---David Brooks on ‘The Next Culture War’ (Rod Dreher,The American Conservative, 6-30-15) Should Christians fight? Retreat? Brooks suggests a third way
After Obergefell: A First Things Symposium (Various authors, First Things, 6-15) How should we respond to the ruling by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage? What’s next? 
Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America by James Davison Hunter (published in 1992). An account of how Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews, and conservative Catholics have joined forces in a battle against their progressive counterparts for control of American secular culture.The struggle to make sense of the battles over the family, art, education, law, and politics. On an increasing number of "hot-button" defining issues—abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, recreational drug use, homosexuality, censorship—there existed two definable polarities.

     See recap of the discussion on Wikipedia. "The culture wars influenced the debate over state-school history curricula in the United States in the 1990s. In particular, debates over the development of national educational standards in 1994 revolved around whether the study of American history should be a "celebratory" or "critical" undertaking and involved such prominent public figures as Lynne Cheney, the late Rush Limbaugh, and historian Gary Nash." This Wikipedia entry is one of the most useful I've seen, including a wide range of references and useful discussions and explanations.
Deep Water: An Encounter with Whiteness (Deepa Iyer, Medium, 10-30-18) See also her Solidarity Is This about different aspects of the effects of white supremacist culture and From Silos to Solidarity: Learning from 2017’s Resistance Movements. We "must also sharpen our solidarity work: we must move beyond race as the single and sole organizing force to bring communities together; we must work within our own communities to lovingly challenge biases as we proclaim unity with other movements; and we must ensure that we are not caught in a cycle of rapid response and emergency postures that end up harming our own people and organizations."
Climate Science as Culture War (Andrew J. Hoffman, Stanford Social Innovation Review, SSIR, Fall 2012) "Today, there is no doubt that a scientific consensus exists on the issue of climate change....And yet a social consensus on climate change does not exist. Surveys show that the American public’s belief in the science of climate change has mostly declined over the past five years, with large percentages of the population remaining skeptical of the science."

     "The public debate around climate change is no longer about science—it’s about values, culture, and ideology. 'Climate change has become enmeshed in the so-called culture wars. Acceptance of the scientific consensus is now seen as an alignment with liberal views consistent with other “cultural” issues that divide the country (abortion, gun control, health care, and evolution). This partisan divide on climate change was not the case in the 1990s. It is a recent phenomenon, following in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty that threatened the material interests of powerful economic and political interests, particularly members of the fossil fuel industry."
Everything you wanted to know about the culture wars – but were afraid to ask (Andrew Anthony, The Guardian, 6-13-21) Politicians like to provoke them, academics like to analyse them. Yet most people don’t even know what they’re all about.The historian Dominic Sandbrook agrees that a culture war is under way but cautions against overstating its dimensions. He thinks that more often than not it’s a dispute between two sides of an educated elite. Scroll down for key flashpoints, mainly from UK viewpoint, but they include the murder of George Floyd and the European Union referendum (the issues surrounding Brexit were as often as not cultural at root).

 'Everything that gets labeled "far-left" in the US is common sense policy in the rest of the industrialized world. Guaranteed health care. Paid family leave. Government drug price negotiation. Gun control. It isn't radical. We're talking about the basics of a functioning society."
~ Public Citizen @Public_Citizen 

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How to run a critique group (one group's experience)

Guest post by novelist Luanne Oleas


I've been in the same critique group for seven years and I've been managing it for five years. I inherited it from our local writers group (my area branch of the California Writers Club).We've had only minor changes in membership over the years. We went virtual during the pandemic, and I doubt we'll ever go back.


I'm lucky that most of the members are in my time zone because our meeting runs about six hours, once a month. There's a fair bit of administrative work involved to keep it going, but it's well worth the effort to have people consistently reading and commenting on your work. There are  six of us, all fiction writers. I doubt we would have time for more members.


How it works: We each submit a chapter a month, anywhere from 3 to 15 pages. That submission should arrive a few days before the meeting so the members have time to read through it once before the meeting starts.


During the meeting, each writer reads his submission aloud and other members comment on what struck them, good and bad.


What I find particularly helpful is that we have members from ages 30 to  90. Expressions that work for the older members don't fly with the younger ones. It's good to know that. We are also at all different skill levels: two with multiple books published, several with books written but unpublished, and one on his first book. Being at different levels in our careers hasn't been a hindrance. We all bring something to the table. Our group has two fantasy writers, a fictional podcaster, one adventure writer, and two women's fiction, so yes, we span multiple fiction genres. I had to get up to speed on fantasy and podcasting, somewhat, but it wasn't difficult.


To start a virtual critique group, you need:


      A shared folder like Google drive

      A few reminder emails

      Members who are slightly (but not overly) tech savvy.


The process: We find it best if the author being critiqued doesn't talk unless asked a direct question. No defending your work. Also, those giving critiques must mention what works as well as what doesn't. A good way to start is to use the following questions:


       What specific passages stand out or stay in your mind? Why?

       What do you think is the main idea of the work? (Express this in your own words.)

       What does the work almost say?

       What do you want to hear more about?

       What, if anything, is too obvious or too explicit?

       What is the best feature of this work? Why?


We start the meeting at 6 pm, allow 30 minutes to socialize, then at 6:30 we start reading. No socializing is allowed after reading starts. Also, at the end of the meeting, we set the date and time of the next meeting. The reminder emails give the links to a shared folder and to the Zoom meeting. Usually they go out a week before the meeting.


Our members use Word docs, Google docs, or PDFs when submitting chapters. Within a day or two after the meeting, each member emails specific comments directly back to the author. In the meeting, we cover only the high points of our critiques; we get into the weeds with the edited files we return. We return files directly to the author by email, not posted in the shared folder, to cut down on maintenance for the group Admin.


A lot goes into the care and feeding of a critique group, but the benefits make it worth the effort. Different members have different strengths when it comes to critiques. We have a lawyer who is great at grammar edits, an ex-teacher who is better at suggesting word choices, a mathematician who catches all the conflicting details, a marketing maven who is better at story lines, and a techie who helps with the youthful viewpoints and offers suggestions to update the work and make it more current.


If you write about other settings, it's amazing what group knowledge contributes. I happened to have a main character who uses an online dating services. Since I've been married for over 40 years, I had no clue how they worked. I got lots of advice to make it more realistic. Basically, it's like have a panel of experts help improve your work.


You also learn how to deal with the comments others make on your work. If one person says "this doesn't work," you can usually ignore that comment. If everyone, or even the majority, say something doesn't work, you probably need to change it. But also, in the end, you as the author have the final say. Maybe because you know the whole story, you may know why you have to keep a passage despite suggestions to the contrary. This has helped me when I had to deal with editors as well. 


To have a successful critique group you have to be willing to put some effort into it, accept each other's strengths and weaknesses, and be willing to ask members to conform to the rules or find another group. The last is probably the toughest part. We must all agree to a new member joining and there's a trial period of two months before they become a permanent member.  ''


Having random writers comment on your work might be one way to improve it, but you really never know how seriously to take their comments. Many authors need consistent (not sporadic) comments on their work. Establishing an on-going critique group might be a better option. I hope my suggestion can help some folks get started.


Best of luck,

Luanne Oleas


Luanne is author of the novels Flying Blind: A cropduster's story and A Primrose in November. Learn more about her upcoming work on her website and check out her blog. This letter first appeared in an Authors Guild discussion group and is reprinted here with Luanne's permission.


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What's up with 'Letters to the Editor'?

Letters to the Editor are written by members of the public (not newspaper or magazine staff), generally expressing a reader's opinion about a current issue.

Seven Tips for Crafting a Compelling Letter to the Editor from Media Matters: The Complete Guide to Getting Positive Media Attention (PDF Advocacy & Communication Solutions) Free download here.

• This "Dear IRS" letter Ed Barnett wrote to the Wichita Falls Times Record News in 2009 went viral.

Letter to the Editor Template (NAEYC)

Letters to the Editor (The New York Times)

Letters to the Editor (Washington Post)

     For example: Opinion: Only one party’s policies are increasing U.S. mortality (Guess which one.)

In the age of social media blasts, what’s the point of letters to the editor? (Marina Bolotnikova, Poynter, 3-18-22) Publishing readers’ letters sends a message that they are equal participants and that reader criticism is a necessary part of how the news is made. “Our older readers will write letters, but younger folks need to be invited and told that the thing that they just published on the internet is also a letter, and can be integrated into the conversation that the magazine is having.”

      If editors want letters to remain a live tradition, they can’t just wait for letters to come to them. Like Arielle Angel of Jewish Currents, Thornton solicits letters from readers who post strong reactions to the Los Angeles Times’ work on Twitter. “Half the time I don’t get any replies. But the times that I do, it elevates me, because seeing this occasionally vicious criticism on Twitter turn into a well-thought-out, well-argued letter to the editor is quite wonderful.”

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian, UK) An intelligent letter-writing readership.
The Top Letters to the Editor of 2021 (Dallas Morning News)
The Best Letters to the Editor in New Republic History (Woolf, Updike, and Nabokov)

Flintstones to Lance Armstrong: 8 of the Best Letters to the Editor (posted on Time, 11-28-14) Some of the best letters to the editor make us laugh.

From the editor: Statesman Journal stops publishing traditional opinion content (Cherrill Crosby, Salem Statesman Journal, 5-8-22) "We've learned via focus groups and feedback that this content does not resonate as it once did with audiences. It is among the least-read content that we produce, both online and in print. We know Statesman Journal readers want to be educated about the facts so they can make up their own minds as opposed to being told what to do....And because it is some of the least publicly understood as far as the difference between news and opinion content, opinion content also is tied to perceived problems of journalistic credibility, trust, objectivity and fairness."

Disgraced British Columbia politician seeks redemption. Former legislator Paul Reitsma who resigned in disgrace for writing letters to newspapers under fake names hopes to revive his political career on Vancouver Island.


What other great letters to the editor are out there? What good tips for writing effective letters to the editor?

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Stay 'Woke'? Or stop Woke?

I advise everybody to be a little careful when they go down there. Stay woke. Keep your eyes open.” ~ Lead Belly, "Scottsboro Boys," 1938


"DeSantis engineered and recently signed into law the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, a title that precisely captures what the bill’s architects aimed to do: stop people in Florida from speaking out in ways that challenge racism and other kinds of discrimination." ~ Ishena Robinson, NAACP


"I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon’ stay woke. And I’m gon’ help him wake up other black folk." ~ Barry Beckham in his 1972 play Garvey Lives!

A history of “wokeness” (Aja Romano, Vox, 10-9-20) Stay woke: How a Black activist watchword got co-opted in the culture war. In the six years since the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, “woke” has evolved into a single-word summation of leftist political ideology, centered on social justice politics and critical race theory. This framing of “woke” is bipartisan: It’s used as a shorthand for political progressiveness by the left, and as a denigration of leftist culture by the right. On the left, to be “woke” means to identify as a staunch social justice advocate who’s abreast of contemporary political concerns — or to be perceived that way.On the right, “woke” — like its cousin “canceled” — bespeaks “political correctness” gone awry, and the term itself is usually used sarcastically.
The “Woke History” Wars Emma Green with Tyler Foggatt (New Yorker podcast, 3-8-23) discusses a major debate in academia about whether contemporary politics are shaping our understanding of the past too much.
The Roots Of Wokeness (Andrew Sullivan, The Weekly Dish, 7-31-20) It's time we looked more closely at the philosophy behind the movement. 'There’s no conspiracy: we all act unknowingly in perpetuating systems of thought that oppress other groups. To be “woke” is to be “awake” to these invisible, self-reinforcing discourses, and to seek to dismantle them—in ourselves and others.'

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Do agents prefer manuscripts that have been reviewed by a professional editor?

Maggie Lynch's helpful response to this question on an Authors Guild discussion forum (published here with her permission):


Do agents prefer manuscripts that have been reviewed by a professional editor?

      Before I start sending out query letters to agents, I'd like advice on whether it's worth the expense of hiring a development editor to evaluate my manuscript. I've received positive feedback from two beta readers, and I feel like the book is ready to go after 5 years work on it. 


Maggie's response:

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