Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction to be Awarded to E. Annie Proulx

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced today that E. Annie Proulx, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Shipping News” and the short story “Brokeback Mountain,” will receive the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction during the 2018 Library of Congress National Book Festival on Sept. 1.

Hayden selected Proulx as this year’s winner based on the recommendation of a jury of previous winners, distinguished authors and prominent literary critics from around the world. The prize ceremony will take place during the National Book Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

“E. Annie Proulx has given us monumental sagas and keen-eyed, skillfully wrought stories,” Hayden said. “Throughout her writing, she succeeds in capturing the wild, woolly heart of America, from its screwball wit to its every last detail. She is an American original.”

One of the Library of Congress’ most prestigious awards, the annual Prize for American Fiction honors an American literary writer whose body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but also for its originality of thought and imagination. The award seeks to commend strong, unique, enduring voices that—throughout long, consistently accomplished careers—have told us something new about the American experience.

“This high honor came as a shock to me,” Proulx said. “My writing has examined the lives of unimportant people—poor people plagued with bad luck, financial and personal troubles. They were hill farmers, small town country music groups, hunters and fishermen, immigrants and accordion repairmen, failed newspapermen and fishermen, war veterans and cowhands, closeted rural gays in denial, ranchers, lumbermen, wood-choppers, widows. They were strung across the continent from Newfoundland to Vermont to Louisiana to Wyoming to Michigan to Oregon. Not the kind of characters to be graced with notice by the Library of Congress. And yet somehow it has happened. I want to believe the people in my writing will step up with me to receive this award, for they are as real as history.”

Author of ‘The Shipping News’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to Appear at National Book Festival. (Photo: Gus Powell)

Proulx was born in Connecticut in 1935 and attended Colby College and the University of Vermont. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington. Proulx is the author of eight books, including “The Shipping News,” which received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize; and “Postcards,” winner of the PEN/Faulkner award—Proulx was the first woman to win the award.

Proulx’s other honors include the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature, the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her O. Henry Prize-winning story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Her most recent novel is “Barkskins.”

For more information on the prize, including previous winners, visit loc.gov/about/awards-and-honors/fiction-prize/.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov, and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

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How The Tax Package Could Blur The Separation Of Church And Politics

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If a House provision gets enacted, churches will be able to endorse – not just pray for – political candidates. Andrew Cline/Shutterstock.com

Susan Anderson,
Elon University

The tax package pending in Congress includes a provision that would leave churches and other nonprofits, which by law must be nonpartisan, suddenly free to engage in political speech.

This measure, currently only in the House version of the bill, could potentially change charitable life as we know it.

As an accounting professor who teaches nonprofit taxation, I believe that this significant change deserves vigorous public debate and is too big to bury in tax legislation.

Johnson Amendment

Tax law currently bars religious and secular charities alike from engaging in political activity, which the government defines as attempting to influence legislation or intervening in a campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) specific candidates.

Nonprofits caught breaking this law may pay back taxes or lose their tax-exempt status.

Known as the Johnson Amendment, this provision dates back to 1954, when then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson led the effort to get this restriction on the books. More nonprofits say they welcome this as a form of protection from political pressure than object to it as a restriction on their rights.

President Donald Trump vowed as a candidate to repeal the Johnson Amendment to give church leaders the ability to speak about politics without penalty. But repealing a law takes an act of Congress and power he lacks.

As a step in that direction, he issued an executive order directing the IRS not to enforce it for religious institutions.

The tax bill’s proposed change would actually repeal the Johnson Amendment, and it would apply to all charitable organizations, including churches and other houses of worship like mosques and synagogues. It came as an unwelcome surprise to most charities, which have been openly rejecting it.

“Charitable nonprofits don’t want to be dragged into the toxic political wasteland,” said Tim Delaney, who leads the National Council of Nonprofits.

If the House language becomes law, political speech by these groups would technically need to meet two requirements. First, charities would be able to make political statements in the ordinary course of business – that is, doing whatever it is they do. For example, a prominent pastor could endorse political candidates during a sermon that’s broadcast or livestreamed.

Second, making such statements must cost no more than an “incremental de minimis amount” – regulatory language that basically translates into “not much.”

In other words, calls to vote for a particular candidate could be printed in flyers as long as those missives were mainly about something else. And nonprofits could endorse candidates on their websites as long as the details do not dominate that digital space. Politicking would be allowed on the sidelines and if it does not consume a large share of a group’s budget.

Where exactly the government would draw a line isn’t clear yet. Most likely, churches wouldn’t be free to mail their congregants straightforward calls to “vote for Jennifer Doe on November 7.” But they might be able to include that language in their monthly newsletters or on a web page about a church supper.

Why bother?

Why lift current restrictions on political speech by charities? The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, argues that the Johnson Amendment unconstitutionally restricts free speech by not allowing nonprofits to speak on big issues that matter to the public.

However, there’s no clear evidence that this is a valid concern. Plenty of pastors already speak out often on policy issues, such as abortion, immigration and income inequality. Some even endorse candidates running for office, according to a 2016 Pew study.

In fact, religious leaders have been reportedly speaking out more because of increasingly lax IRS enforcement of nonprofit political activity starting years before Trump signed his executive order.

President Donald Trump, shown here signing an executive order on May 4. The order instructed the IRS to use ‘maximum enforcement discretion’ in enforcing a tax code provision barring nonprofits from engaging in political activity. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Arguments against this change

The Johnson Amendment entangles church and state by requiring the IRS to determine whether speech by 501(c)(3) nonprofits – the kind to which Americans who itemize their returns can make tax-deductible donations – is political or merely issue advocacy.

For example, religious leaders currently can speak about abortion as long as they do not endorse candidates based on their views regarding the procedure. If the proposed tax code amendment becomes law, they would be free to do just that.

Delaney and other nonprofit leaders – including religious ones – say that they would prefer to see partisan politics kept out of charities, churches and foundations. This arrangement, they argue, currently shields them from political pressure from donors, board members or politicians.

There is also a risk that some charities would superficially serve an educational purpose while actually engaging in political activity, according to Roger Colinvaux, a Catholic University law professor who previously served as a lawyer for the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional committee with members from both the House and Senate whose staff analyzes tax proposals.

Without restrictions on political speech by churches and secular charities, many experts predict that taxpayers seeking to make political contributions would shift such nondeductible donations from politicians, parties and political organizations to nonpartisan charities.

This would mean potentially billions of dollars in political donations could be written off. And like the tax cuts themselves, this change would come with a price tag.

The House bill would lift this restriction for five years beginning in the 2019 tax year, reducing revenue by approximately US$1.5 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

What’s more, contributions to nonprofits for political purposes could be anonymous. While the names of donors who contribute to political campaigns must be disclosed, charitable donations don’t have to revealed.

In other words, donors could make their contributions to nonprofits contingent upon endorsements for candidates without anyone knowing about it if this provision becomes part of the tax code.

What nonprofits say

More than 4,200 religious leaders signed an interfaith petition to keep the Johnson Amendment intact.

At the same time, 5,500 charitable organizations have objected to the proposed revision by signing a letter to that effect.

And a national poll by the Independent Sector, an organization representing charities, foundations and corporations seeking to advance the common good, found that 72 percent of respondents wanted to keep the Johnson Amendment on the books.

The only people who have called for this change are evangelical Christian pastors.

Rushed timetable

Given the pending tax package’s potential to make sweeping changes, the question of whether it makes sense to loosen restrictions on political speech by charitable organizations is getting less attention than it should.

Most Americans do not know what is in this legislation, which Trump wants to sign into law before Christmas on a rushed timetable. If he gets his wish, chances are strong that the debate will follow passage rather than precede it.

The ConversationA huge shift like this deserves a real and open debate, not the kind of behind-the-scenes deal-making that apparently went on before House Republicans folded this nonprofit provision into its tax bill.

Susan Anderson, Professor of Accounting, Elon University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Why America’s Public Media Can’t Do Its Job

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PBS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. melanie.phung/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Christopher Chávez
University of Oregon

When the Trump administration released its proposed budget in March, it suggested eliminating federal funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB). The Conversation

“Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said in defense of the cuts.

Mulvaney seemed to argue that public media was a luxury for the educated few, rather than a truly public resource. Indeed, since the CPB was first established, the degree to which public media reflects the diversity of the nation has the subject of much debate.

But it’s not as simple as Mulvaney makes it out to be. Though the proposed cuts seem unlikely to go through this year, public media will continue to be at the mercy of political and economic factors that have hampered its ability to fulfill its mission and achieve its goals.

A mirror for the nation

When Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 to establish a national, publicly funded media system, there were two clear mandates: to cultivate a more engaged citizen and to affirm the nation’s diversity.

In the network’s original mission statement, NPR architect Bill Siemering described public media as a “necessity for citizens in a democratic society to be enlightened participants.” Unbeholden to the demands of the marketplace, public media would ideally be able to reach audiences that might not be targeted by commercial broadcast networks and their advertisers. This included communities traditionally left out of civic discourse: the uneducated, the poor, the housebound, ethnic minorities and those living in rural areas.

“We try to mirror ALL of the country – perhaps the hardest thing of all,” NPR’s former deputy director Rick Lewis said in 1970, describing his vision for “Morning Edition.”

To tackle this challenge, the CPB decided its subsidiaries, National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), would have a national reach. Meanwhile, they would cultivate member stations rooted in a diverse range of communities across the country. NPR affiliates based in Fresno, California; Mobile, Alabama; or Erie, Pennsylvania might all carry national programs, but they are also tasked with pursuing local stories.

A precarious funding model

Nonetheless, speaking to the country’s extraordinarily diverse populations through a single media system has proven tricky. And over the years, public media has ended up tailoring its programs to an almost exclusively upscale audience of baby boomers.

The decision to focus on college-educated listeners and viewers is certainly a function of the CPB’s own economic realities. As communications professor Robert McChensney argued in his book “The Political Economy of Media,” American public media has been severely handicapped since its inception.

Unlike the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) – which citizens subsidize by paying an annual television license fee – American public media receives relatively little federal funding, denying it a stable source of income. With federal funding in a constant state of flux, public media has come to rely on income from private sources such as pledge drives and corporate underwriting accounts. For example, in 2015 NPR member stations received about 14 percent of their revenues from federal, state and local entities, while 20 percent came from corporations and 37 percent from private donations.

To be economically viable, therefore, public media must focus on affluent, educated listeners. The result is a media system that can, at times, seem woefully out of the touch with nation it purports to represent.

Just as the country is becoming more ethnically, religiously and linguistically diverse (a recent Pew study showed that the U.S. electorate in 2016 was the most diverse in the nation’s history), consumers of national public media remain disproportionately white.

NPR has ambitious aspirations, but its audience still skews old and white. David/flickr, CC BY

According to a 2012 report, the audience for NPR’s member station news programs was 5 percent African-American, 6 percent Latino and 5 percent Asian-American. This disparity is also reflected at the leadership level. In an essay, Joseph Tovares, the senior vice president and chief content officer for the CPB, admitted that the inclusion of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans at the general manager level are almost nonexistent at NPR and PBS member stations.

We see these disparities in the programming itself. Like other national media institutions, public media has traditionally struggled to find a way to include the voices of ethnic and racial minorities. While there are some bright spots – including PBS’s children’s programming and NPR’s Latino USA, the overall diversity efforts seem tepid. In a forum organized by NPR to address public radio’s diversity challenges, sociologist Michael Schudson effectively captured the dilemma:

“No doubt the staff makes an effort to cover issues of special importance to minorities and women, but you suspect that it is a mission and not a habit, and that it feels like a kind of foreign correspondence. You know it can be done well or poorly but, in either case, it is done with the handicap of a largely monochromatic newsroom.”

A wavering commitment to diversity?

Public media realizes that the status quo is a losing strategy. The demographic realities are too sobering. NPR projects that by 2020, its stations’ audience of people younger than 45 will be around 30 percent – half of what that audience accounted for in 1985.

To its credit, the CPB has made broadening its appeal a core part of its current strategy, which includes what it calls the “three D’s”: digital, diversity and dialogue.

However, their own strategic documents provide some insight into just how elastic their definition of inclusion is. For example, NPR’s target audiences still include the “Affluent Business Leader” who is “a c-level employee, has an investment portfolio of $150,000 or more, and holds a leadership position in a club or organization.” Then there’s the “Cultural Connoisseur” who has a postgraduate degree, is more likely to buy tickets for classical music, ballet and opera, and takes more than three vacations a year. For its part, PBS touts the “Power Mom,” who enjoys outdoor activities and spends a significant amount of time online searching for information on museums and concerts.

In other words, these are not the disenfranchised communities whom the original architects of NPR believed would be served by public media.

As journalism professor Ralph Engelman writes in his book “Public Radio and Television in America,” today’s public media was born out of the desire to achieve a more democratic version of German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’ public sphere. Habermas’ notion of what “public” means was criticized as being reserved for propertied, educated males at the exclusion of the poor and disenfranchised. But by serving those already inclined to participate in civic life, it appears that today’s public media extends – rather than disrupts – this pattern.

Just as we’re witnessing unprecedented attacks on the country’s most disenfranchised communities, this seems like an institutional failure. Legislators are advancing policies designed to restrict the movements of Latinos and Muslims. Gains made by the LGBTQ community are being scaled back. There are active efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, eliminate entitlement programs and defund early education programs like Head Start, all of which undermine working-class communities.

Now more than ever, it seems necessary to include the voices – and reach the people – most impacted by these policies. It seems that only by unhitching its funding model from private interests can public media truly fulfill its mission of serving the public at large. But this would require a federal government that’s willing to boost – rather than slash – its funds.

Christopher Chávez, Assistant Professor of Communications, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

 

Rounds, Klobuchar Urge VA Compliance with 2010 ECFA Law that Protects Veterans from Exorbitant ER Bills

December 9, 2016

Washington, DC – Led by U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), 22 senators, including six from the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, wrote to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald to urge him to comply with the Emergency Care Fairness Act (ECFA). The ECFA was enacted in 2010 and directed the VA to cover veterans with private health insurance when that insurance doesn’t cover the full amount of non-VA emergency care. Yet since 2010, the VA has not complied with the law, denying hundreds of thousands of veterans’ reimbursement claims for emergency care.

Earlier this year, a federal court ordered the VA to write regulations that comply with the ECFA. In addition to urging the VA to comply with the law, the senators also requested that the agency fix its mistake and re-open all previously denied claims.

“Congress’s clear intent in passing the ECFA was to expand veteran eligibility for reimbursement for emergency treatment furnished to veterans in non-department facilities,” wrote the senators. “Specifically, congressional intent was to require the VA to act as a secondary payer for emergency treatment costs not covered by the veteran’s third-party insurance. It is evident that the VA has ignored congressional intent. Most troubling is the fact that those who are most affected by the VA’s non-compliance with the ECFA are our elderly veterans, many of whom are living on fixed incomes and have limited resources to pay medical bills.”

In addition to Rounds and Klobuchar, the letter was signed by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The letter is supported by The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Full text of the letter is below:

The Honorable Robert McDonald
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary McDonald:

We write today to express our support for the Veterans Emergency Care Fairness Act of 2009 (ECFA). Six years after enactment of the ECFA, our nation’s veterans continue to bear the burden of emergency treatment costs not covered by veterans’ third-party insurance. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) continued denial of these claims is deeply troubling.

Congress’s clear intent in passing the ECFA was to expand veteran eligibility for reimbursement for emergency treatment furnished to veterans in non-department facilities. Specifically, congressional intent was to require the VA to act as a secondary payer for emergency treatment costs not covered by the veteran’s third-party insurance. It is evident that the VA has ignored congressional intent. Most troubling is the fact that those who are most affected by the VA’s non-compliance with the ECFA are our elderly veterans, many of whom are living on fixed incomes and have limited resources to pay medical bills. Often, these veterans find themselves dealing with collection agencies as a result of emergency care received in the community. This potentially increases stress for these veterans, causes them to lose faith in the VA and keeps them from seeking future medical attention out of fear of acquiring additional medical bills for which they would be financially responsible. 

As you are aware, on April 8, 2016, in the case of “Staab v. Secretary McDonald,” the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims  agreed with the appellant’s contention that the VA’s application of 38 U.S.C. § 1725 frustrates the intent of Congress to reimburse veterans who are not wholly covered by a health-plan contract or other third-party recourse. In its decision, the court ruled that “Congress clearly intended that the VA be responsible for the cost of the emergency treatment which exceeds the amount payable or paid by the third-party insurer.” The court further found the VA’s regulations regarding the ECFA to be invalid and wholly inconsistent with the statute. As a result, the court ruled that 38 C.F.R.     § 17.1002(f) is held invalid and directed it to be set aside.

Based upon this ruling, we strongly urge you to bring the VA into compliance with P.L. 111-137 and to amend any policy, regulation or other barrier that results in denial of veterans’ claims for reimbursement for non-department emergency care.  We further urge you to re-open all previous claims of veterans that were denied because of the VA’s non-compliance with congressional intent and the law. 

Thank you for your attention to our concerns regarding this important issue. We look forward to working closely with you to fully serve the veterans of our great nation. 

Sincerely,

Rounds Cosponsors Bill to Revoke Clinton’s Security Clearance

Rounds Cosponsors Bill to Revoke Former
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Security Clearance

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) thursday cosponsored the Taking Responsibility Using Secured Technologies (TRUST) Act of 2016, which would revoke Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security clearance as well as the security clearances of Secretary Clinton’s colleagues at the State Department who exhibited extreme carelessness in their handling of classified information. Additionally, the TRUST Act expresses the sense of Congress that Secretary Clinton should not have access to classified information unless she earns the legal right to such access.

“In a press conference this week, FBI Director James Comey made clear that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff were ‘extremely careless’ and clearly mishandled highly-classified information that could have compromised our national security,” said Rounds. “Because the FBI and Department of Justice do not intend to move forward with charges, Congress is taking action to remove any possibility of these individuals mishandling sensitive national security information again. Access to classified information is a serious responsibility; at a minimum, they should not be trusted to handle this sensitive national security information in the future.”

The legislation follows the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) investigation into Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail system in her capacity as Secretary of State. In an announcement earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey said that “there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” and “none of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff.” The FBI uncovered several thousand additional emails related to her position, some of which contained classified material, that were not included in the 30,000 emails Clinton handed over to the State Department. Comey concluded the FBI’s findings with “we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.”

Comey stated the investigation initially focused on whether classified information was transmitted on Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail system. It evolved to determine whether there is evidence that classified information was not properly transmitted or stored on that personal e-mail system and whether there is evidence that the system was hacked by foreign or hostile hackers. While Comey confirmed that classified information was transmitted and stored improperly and the personal e-mail system may have been hacked, he formally recommended that no charges be filed against Secretary Clinton.