Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sunday Reading

Exploding Dummies — Charles P. Pierce on the newest gift from Congressional Republicans.

At the end of January, a new Republican member of the House of Representatives named Cory Mills wanted to share his joy at being named to both the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees with all of his new colleagues at work. What better way to do that, Mills figured, than to give them all...a dummy hand grenade. From Business Insider:

Mills on January 20 sent a letter welcoming his colleagues “to a mission-oriented 118th Congress,” along with a dummy grenade. Mills said he was “eager to get to work for the American people” and was honored to serve on the committees. “In that spirit, it is my pleasure to give you a 40mm grenade, made for an MK19 grenade launcher,” Mills wrote. “These are manufactured in the Sunshine State and first developed in the Vietnam War.” The letter to his colleagues assured them in a postscript that “these Florida manufactured 40mm grenades are inert.”

Good of him to note that. (Henceforth, we will refer to these grenades as “Grassleys.”)

Welcome to the 118th Congress. It could have been much, much worse.

Mills is MAGA, through and through. He worked in the Department of Defense under the previous president*. Before that, he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and once he came home, Mills got into the riot control business, manufacturing various warrior-cop munitions. In one of his campaign videos, Mills bragged about how good his business had become during the summer of 2020.

In a campaign video posted to Twitter, Mills introduces himself as a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, before explaining he then “came home” and “started a company making riot control munitions for law enforcement.” “You may know some of our work,” Mills says, smiling as the ad begins showing violent footage of tear gas being deployed at various protests nationwide. According to the campaign ad, the tear gas had been deployed against the following groups: “Hillary Clinton protesters” in Charlotte, North Carolina; “Left wing protesters” in Phoenix; “Antifa rioters” in Washington, DC; “Black Lives Matter protesters” in Denver, Colorado; and “radical left protesters” in Philadelphia. “And now the liberal media is crying about it,” Mills says after the series of videos. “I’m Cory Mills and I approve this message, because if the media wants to shed some real tears, I can help them out with that.”

For its part, Politico discovered that Mills’ firm, PACEM, not only sold tear gas to police departments in this country but also rubber bullets to authorities in Hong Kong, who used them on pro-democracy protestors.

PACEM Solutions is registered to work in Washington, D.C., as well as in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia and Kuwait, according to Mills’ former LinkedIn profile, which was recently taken down. It has also provided what it calls “support and advisory” services to authorities in Iraq, Ukraine, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kurdish region, Malaysia and other countries.

In short, Mills was an arms dealer for law enforcement around the world.

In a written response to questions from POLITICO, Mills said that PACEM was “proud” to sell tear gas to law enforcement agencies in 2020, citing looting and vandalism that followed some demonstrations. “Products like tear gas are sanctioned and utilized by the Department of Defense and state and federal health departments,” Mills said in his response. “They are used on a daily basis to train our military personnel and [law enforcement officers]. Each officer or military member, who utilizes these irritants, must experience these irritants prior to certification. I for one, am thankful that our officers have less lethal options available to ensure order and preserve lives. He said PACEM has stopped selling munitions to Hong Kong. “PACEM has never supplied the Chinese government,” Mills wrote. “ALS sold less-lethal munitions to the independent government of Hong Kong under the ‘one country, two systems’ process before PACEM acquired it. We have discontinued any and all sales to Hong Kong since China eradicated ‘one country, two systems.’”

Mills’ conscience has a gift for alibis, and those have proven quite lucrative. PACEM was successful enough that Mills was able to self-finance his campaign in Florida’s redrawn 7th Congressional District. He campaigned on the whole MAGA platform: election denial, anti-vaxx propaganda, performative outrage over critical race theory, and deriding the Biden administration’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “woke.” In November, Mills was elected with 58 percent of the vote. This gave him the opportunity to gift his new colleagues with his lovely welcoming gifts.

As I said, it could have been very, very much worse.

Let us return now to those thrilling days of yesteryear—specifically, the opening of the 104th Congress in the first week of January in the year 1995. For the first time since 1955, the Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. More specifically, under the leadership of their new speaker, one Newton Leroy Gingrich, the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952. (They even defeated the incumbent speaker of the House, Democrat Tom Foley—the first time that had happened since the middle of the Civil War.) Gingrich had nurtured a new, young breed of Republican, angry and recalcitrant. He schooled them in the political utility of sarcasm and invective. He turned them against the legislative ideals of cooperation to the point where some of them turned completely against the idea of actually governing.

This new attitude led to the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, in which President Bill Clinton completely outmaneuvered Gingrich, boosted his re-election chances in 1996, and began the process that ultimately led to Gingrich’s destruction as a viable national political leader. It is of considerable historical note that Gingrich’s strategy in 1995 was to hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to blackjack spending cuts out of Clinton. Gingrich undermined his own credibility by complaining that Clinton had stuck him in the back of Air Force One on a trip to Israel for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. Those two failed power plays caused Gingrich to lean into the impeachment circus in 1998, which cost him most of his majority in 1998 and, eventually, his congressional seat, after his own personal peccadilloes became public knowledge and because his fellow Republicans got tired of being whipped into hopeless power plays that came to nothing. But Gingrich had changed the basic psychology of both conservatism and Republicanism. And the new members of Congress who’d followed him into the House in 1995 were the best evidence of that.

The GOP picked up 54 seats in the 1994 midterms, an astonishing sweep that brought into Congress a number of people who would dominate the Republican congressional caucuses for decades. These included future senators Sam Brownback, Saxby Chambliss, Roger Wicker, John Ensign, Tom Coburn, and Richard Burr. Current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was another rookie that year. The class also featured top-flight nuts like J.D. Hayworth from Arizona, Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, and Bob Barr of Georgia. Chenoweth was the darling of the militia crowd in and around the Pacific Northwest (she once actually cited “black helicopters” as the shock troops of the EPA). Hayworth advocated a solution to the immigration problem that was first posited in 1914 by…Henry Ford. They were quite a bunch. And they never truly went away, as Lindsey Graham’s continued presence at the top of the occasional news cycle would indicate.

The precedents set by the class of 1994 are not promising for new Speaker Kevin McCarthy. After all, the caucus didn’t truly rebel against Speaker Gingrich until after he’d lost on two shutdowns and an impeachment. The class of 2022 rebelled against Speaker McCarthy before he even became Speaker McCarthy. In fact, it came within a hairs’ breadth of rejecting the notion of Speaker McCarthy completely. Gingrich rode to the speakership on a nearly unprecedented wave election. McCarthy staggered into the speaker’s chair after a midterm performance so wretched that he needs the presence of serial prevaricator George Santos (if that is his real name) to cement his majority. And even for all the advantages he had over McCarthy, Gingrich destroyed himself by overreaching. McCarthy’s entire caucus is built on overreaching. Gingrich created his majority; McCarthy was created by his majority.

I hope he has a nice place in his office for his new dummy hand grenade. It symbolizes so much more than Rep. Cory Mills meant it to. The whole Republican caucus is a dummy explosion.

Doonesbury — Back to more important issues…

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Friday, January 27, 2023

Happy Friday

I have been invited to talk to students at one of the three charters schools where I work part-time as a grants administrator to talk about a career in theatre.

I intend to tell them that the odds are stacked against them and that they have a better chance of becoming a power forward for the Miami Heat than they do of finding a full-time career in the performing arts as an actor — or a playwright.  But if they truly have the passion, the drive, and the dedication, they will find a way to do both: make a living and feed their passion.

The worst thing you can do is give up on that dream.

Meanwhile, cherish the sunrise.

Getting The Banned Together

Amanda Marcotte in Salon:

For those who are paying attention, it’s been obvious for some time that Florida’s mega-MAGA governor, Ron DeSantis, is aggressive with book bans because he would just prefer it if kids didn’t read books at all. So while it was infuriating, it was not surprising to read that the investigative journalism team at Popular Info had discovered that teachers in Manatee County, Florida were told that every book on their shelves was banned until otherwise notified. Failure to lock up all their books until they could be “vetted” by censors, teachers were warned, put them at risk of being prosecuted as felons.

The facts of this situation are straightforward: A Florida law signed by DeSantis requires that every book available to students “must be selected by a school district employee who holds a valid educational media specialist certificate,” in most cases, the school librarian. This may sound reasonable on its surface, but as the situation in Manatee County shows, in reality, it’s about creating a bottleneck preventing books from getting into the hands of students. Even more importantly, it’s about establishing the idea that books are inherently dangerous objects, to the degree that no student can be allowed to handle one without heavy-handed surveillance.

Moreover, even if the librarians in Florida are not themselves interested in being the reading police, they may feel they have no choice. DeSantis has made it quite clear what kinds of ideas he believes should be banned in the state of Florida. He doesn’t want schools to acknowledge that LGBTQ people exist. He’s banned the teaching of Black history classes on the grounds that lessons on people like Frederick Douglass or Rosa Parks, for instance, “have no educational value.” He has been forcing schools to teach a lie, that racism is not the cause of racial inequality. With that level of pressure, it is no surprise that schools would simply err on the side of having few, if any, books available. If books return to the shelves, they may likely be heavily limited to those that portray the world like it’s a 1950s sitcom, which pretty much guarantees they’ll go unread, as such themes hold little interest to kids in 21st-century America.

When it comes to keeping kids from reading much, if at all, DeSantis’ policy is a smashing success. He’s established the idea that no student should ever be allowed to just grab a book and read on their own. He’s stigmatized basic curiosity. Big Brother must always be watching, a reference kids probably won’t get if “1984” is no longer a book readers can just pick up.

Popular Info’s head, Judd Legum, saw his tweets on this subject go viral this week. But since Twitter is now owned by a right-wing troll, Elon Musk, it is no surprise that the company decided to attach a “community note” that downplays how extensive the Florida censorship is. But the community note, which read “only unvetted books will be removed,” is misleading to the point of being an outright lie. As Legum noted in his follow-up, since all the books are “unvetted,” all the books were removed.

As Legum noted in a follow-up, this isn’t limited to this one county. In Duval, a principal warned teachers that allowing students to read books could result in felony prosecution.

The language of “vetting” and whatnot is put in place by DeSantis and his allies to create just such a misleading debate about the nature of censorship. As with the draconian “don’t say gay” law, the policies are written in such a vague way that defenders can pretend that they’re limited in scope, while in fact, enforcement is broad. Defenders pretended the “don’t say gay” law merely blocked “instruction,” as if there were teachers giving how-tos on blow jobs. In reality, the word “instruction” is so vague that students and teachers feel they have to err on the side of pretending everyone is straight, lest they get accused of “instructing” kids about queer lives.

A similar game is being played with the “vetting” language. Book ban supporters can claim they’re not banning books because, in theory, books can be “vetted” and restored to the shelves. Of course, this is how all book bans throughout time have worked. They rarely, if ever, cover all the books all the time. But even when books are finally released to potential readers under a “ban first, ask questions later” system, the message is sent: Books are presumed inherently dangerous. Instead of being glad that a child is reading a book, the system treats every child with a book as suspicious. Policies like this have a ripple effect, recasting reading not as a social good but a threat to be strictly regulated.

Even the surface defenses of book bans are disgusting, of course. Accusations that kids are being “groomed” by reading books with LGBTQ characters imply both that queer identities would disappear if they weren’t acknowledged and also that would be a good thing, two repugnant arguments.

But there’s an even deeper reason that book bans are such a mainstay of authoritarian politics, even as the ideas being suppressed shift from regime to regime. Authoritarians hate reading for the same reason they hate sex, or any private behavior that allows people to experience thoughts and feelings outside of the authoritarian’s control. Learning to sit quietly and read by yourself is, for most people, the first step towards being able to sit with your own thoughts. It’s crucial for learning to think for yourself. There’s a reason most teachers like to have a wide array of books on hand, giving kids the freedom to read on their own. It’s how kids develop other skills, like critical thinking and creativity.

Of course, all that is exactly what DeSantis is afraid of. He may occasionally make noises about freedom, but his actions speak clearly of his goal, which is to turn Florida students into a bunch of unthinking right-wing robots. This is a man who released an ad where he bragged about teaching his young child to parrot “build the wall,” after all. He’s never hidden his loathing for education and his preference for indoctrination. Books are being banned en masse in Florida schools. That’s not an accident or a side effect, but always very much by DeSantis’s design.

I am very sure that “Fahrenheit 451” is on the list, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Chick Bait

Andy Borowitz explores Mike Pence’s reason for hiding his classified documents.

CARMEL, INDIANA (The Borowitz Report)—Mike Pence has revealed that he often hid behind classified documents to prevent women who were not his wife from lusting after him.

Speaking to reporters outside his home in Indiana, Pence said that his “greatest fear” was dining alone in a restaurant and being accosted by women “hellbent on seducing me.”

“Whenever possible, I’d bring Mother,” he said. “But when she wasn’t available I’d hide my face behind classified documents.”

The former Vice-President hoped that the American people would understand his using secret documents as “a mask of sorts” to keep Pence-crazed women from hurling themselves at him.

“People are saying that having classified documents in my personal possession was wrong,” he said. “All I ask is that they consider the human cost—day in, day out—of being as sexy as Mike Pence.”

Talk to me in code, Mike. You know you want to.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Putting Blackness In Its Place In Florida

Karen Attiah gets to the heart of what anti-Blackness in Florida means.

There’s that saying that goes, “White privilege is when your history is the core curriculum, and mine is an elective.” Well, to Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Black history isn’t even worthy of that bare minimum.

Last week, it was revealed that the Florida Department of Education had sent a letter to the College Board, saying it would not adopt the board’s new Advanced Placement African American studies course for its public schools. The course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law,” the letter said, “and significantly lacks educational value.”

Meanwhile, AP courses in European history, American history, world history, U.S. government and politics, and other subjects, in various languages, remain untouched.

Quelle surprise.

For the uninitiated: The College Board has for decades offered AP courses and exams in a variety of subjects for high-schoolers. The course material is supposed to be more intensive and to mimic what would be offered at a college level. To high school students who do well enough on their AP exams, many colleges and universities offer first-year course credits.

This day and age, it ought to be no question that African American studies deserves AP treatment. It’s crucial for all students to have access to this history and this knowledge and for scholars in the field to have an opportunity to reach younger generations.

The availability of this course would also be hugely meaningful for Black students. Study after study has shown that Black students are likely to be more engaged and perform better in school when their identities and histories are affirmed — and in a way that goes beyond fetishizing Black trauma. I was an AP student myself, scoring well enough on the European and American history tests to gain college credit. But I will never forget how humiliating it was to ask my teacher why we weren’t learning about Africa and Black people when so many other groups’ histories were considered essential.

The AP African American studies course isn’t even formalized yet; it’s in a pilot phase. For a decade, a group of African American scholars has been working to develop the program. Only 60 schools across the nation are testing it for the 2022-2023 academic year, though the College Board is hoping to roll it out nationally by the 2024-2025 school year.

DeSantis’s move, therefore, can be seen as a preemptive strike — on the continuum with all his recent attempts to cut off efforts to teach tomorrow’s adults about Black Americans and their place in history.

This would be a slap in the face at any time. But DeSantis’s latest escalation comes during the same month as the centennial of the infamous Rosewood massacre, when White residents destroyed the all-Black town of Rosewood, Fla. It’s more like stabbing the backs of Black Floridians with a hot knife.

And surely Florida is a testing ground. Most likely, it’s only a matter of time before conservative groups in other states use their institutional power to attack AP African American studies as well.

The history of the African American experience in the United States can’t ever be eliminated. But the bastions of white power in this country are doing their damnedest to eradicate it. In 2020, the whole world watched a White police officer eradicate George Floyd on camera. Diversity and inclusion programs are being eradicated from schools and corporations. Now, a state is using its power to eradicate the (elective!) inclusion of the African American experience in education.

What can be done?

First, more colleges and universities should band together to say they will recognize AP African American studies and give incoming freshmen course credit for the AP exam. With those incentives, it stands to reason that more students and educators will want to see the course offered in high schools.

Second, colleges should continue expanding their offerings of Black history and Black studies, including majors, minors and graduate degrees.

There are also legal challenges in the works. Janai S. Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told my colleague Jennifer Rubin: “AP courses are college-level courses that, by extension, are protected under the First Amendment, and the specific targeting of African American Studies is evidence of unlawful racial discrimination.”

But allow me to zoom out. I’d be remiss not to note that this should be a learning moment for all of us — for White people especially — about the failure to rein in the post-Black Lives Matter normalization of anti-Blackness.

As soon as the panic about “wokeness” in schools and the supposed teaching of critical race theory hit the mainstream, many Black journalists could smell what was coming. The laws against critical race theory and legislation such as Florida’s Stop Woke Act (another DeSantis special that has faced legal challenges) were always about anti-Blackness.

I have tried making this point over and over in my writing and in chats with well-meaning people who wanted to understand what the right was fussing about. I would hear people insist that if we just explained what critical race theory was, we could win by making fools of the conservatives who were banning nonexistent critical race theory courses. Those folks were wrong.

Instead, by singling out AP African American studies, Florida is showing us what the end game was always about: making institutional anti-Blackness lawful again.

This is legitimizing the teaching of Jim Crow as the solution to “wokeness.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

George Wallace 2.0

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post tells us about Ron DeSantis’s racism.

Florida’s Republican governor and presidential aspirant Ron DeSantis has made a name for himself by harassing Black voters, setting up a system to sue teachers for teaching race in ways that might offend Whites, singling out LGBTQ youth (while gagging teachers) and engaging in extreme gerrymandering to reduce the voting power of minorities.

Now he’s gone full-blown white supremacist, banning the College Board’s Advanced Placement for African American studies course from Florida’s schools.

In what is surely among its most explicitly racist actions, the DeSantis administration determined (on what basis?) that the course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” according to a Jan. 12 letter from the Florida Education Department to the College Board.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre blasted the move (while clarifying that the White House does not dictate curriculum). Jean-Pierre declared that it is “not new from what we’re seeing, especially from Florida, sadly.” She pointed out that state officials “didn’t block AP European History. … They didn’t block our art history. But the state chooses to block a course that is meant for high-achieving high school students to learn about their history of arts and culture.” She called the decision “incomprehensible.”

I hate to point out — for fear of putting a target on its back — that the University of Florida has an esteemed African American Studies program (as does virtually every other well-regarded university). “The African American Studies program is one of the fastest growing majors at UF,” the college’s website explains. “The degree program provides students with a variety of innovative courses by applying creative cultural methods of teaching while examining the African American experience.”

The university goes on to provide the essential historical context for the program: “Before 1958, a state law in Florida banned black attendance at public universities in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. Between 1945 and 1958, 85 black students applied for admission to all levels of UF, and all were rejected.” The University of Florida, like many institutions in the South, was the site of “massive resistance” after Brown v. Board of Education mandated desegregation:

In 1949 Virgil Hawkins was public relations director of Bethune-Cookman College at Daytona Beach when he applied to the University of Florida’s law school. Five other blacks applied with Hawkins to UF graduate and law programs, but all were refused admission. They sued in the Florida Supreme Court for an order requiring UF to admit them. The state of Florida offered to send them out of state. Also, the Board of Control voted to establish a segregated law school at [Florida A&M University]. …
The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Florida to immediately enroll [Hawkins] in 1957, but the Florida Supreme Court concluded that federal law could be superseded by state law in some instances (the now-discredited “interposition” doctrine). After appearing before the Florida Supreme Court three times and the U.S. Supreme Court twice, Hawkins entered into a consent decree (agreed judgment) and agreed to withdraw his lawsuit in exchange for the integration of U.F.’s graduate and professional schools. Mr. Hawkins eventually received his J.D. 27 years after first applying to the University of Florida.

That sad chapter in Florida history gets at the heart of the problem. This is fact-based history, and Florida did not explain how the AP course supposedly contravened state law. If it is referencing last year’s Stop WOKE Act, which blocks the teaching of material that could make students feel guilt or responsibility for historical racism, then one has to wonder whether something as simple and straightforward as the state’s own history of segregated education can be studied.

The DeSantis administration’s actions put to lie the notion that the attack on “critical race theory” is aimed at “socialist ideas” or educationally suspect pedagogy. This is about rewriting history to wipe out a critical part of our American experience, to deny the wrongs done to millions of Americans and to exempt institutions from the obligation to take a hard look at remedying past injustice.

It will be interesting to see if former senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), the new president of the University of Florida, has anything to say about this decision. It provides an early test as to whether he is a serious educator or a political hack.

In any event, DeSantis can expect more litigation over this latest move to appease the right-wing base. Janai S. Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told me, “If the new Advanced Placement Course on African American Studies violates Florida laws, as alleged by the Florida Department of Education, it only proves the unconstitutionality of the state’s laws.” Her group’s lawsuit challenging the Stop WOKE Act obtained a temporary injunction, banning it from going into effect in colleges and universities based on the First Amendment.

Historically, a key aspect of white supremacy has been the denial of Blacks’ own suffering, their historical experience and their current scholarship. It’s the ultimate expression of contempt for certain Americans as unworthy and peripheral to the story of “real” — read “White” — America. The goal here is unmistakable: eradication of African American historical experience.

“AP courses are college-level courses that, by extension, are protected under the First Amendment, and the specific targeting of African American Studies is evidence of unlawful racial discrimination,” Nelson said. “There is no question that the Florida Department of Education’s ban of AP African American Studies courses also will be challenged.”

The College Board is to be lauded for developing an AP course in African American studies. The long effort to exclude a complete history of America has left millions of Americans sadly ignorant.

I recently visited the magnificent “Great Wall of Los Angeles,” a half-mile mural begun in 1974 to tell the story of the city and state from prehistoric to modern times, including an array of outstanding African American, Latino, immigrant, LGBTQ and Native American figures and milestones in the battle for civil rights. I was horrified at the number of historically noteworthy figures I had never learned about in school, including Mifflin W. Gibbs, Mary Ellen Pleasant, William A. Leidesdorff, Biddy Mason, Jeannette Rankin and Charles Drew. (And while I had learned about the Zoot Suit Riots and the Chinese massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles, for example, they weren’t part of the K-12 curriculum.)

DeSantis and those playing to White grievance may prefer that students never learn about such figures and incidents. But considering the damage already done in under-educating Americans, perhaps African American studies (and a complete study of the diverse American experience) should be included in every K-12 curriculum for every student.

Ron DeSantis should remind us that if we want a fully aware, educated population capable of functioning as competent citizens in a diverse democracy, the rest of us need to push back against nefarious attempts to erase history.

Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who gained national attention in 1963 by standing in the schoolhouse door against integration and in his inaugural address proclaimed “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever,” ran for president in 1968, won 13% of the popular vote, and split off enough Democratic votes — when Southern Democrats were still a thing in American politics — and helped Richard Nixon into the White House by basically echoing Wallace’s race-baiting and fear-mongering with his Southern Strategy: scare the crap out of the white folks.

Ron DeSantis is basically using Wallace’s playbook but without the charm; he’s been described by someone who has been around him as a dead fish and pretty much devoid of personality and people skills.  But when it comes to bullying and putting the lie to the conservative mantra of smaller government and local control, he’s very good at it.  As Ms. Rubin points out, he takes on the robes of racism in the name of “anti-wokeness,” but cannot define it other than to make it seem that anything that serves the interest of the minorities and the under-represented is an affront to the sacred honor of white straight Christians who just cannot catch a break in this state because it’s just not fair that Florida’s students should be told that throughout the state’s history, minorities and LGBTQ people were — and still are — discriminated against.

Meanwhile, the people of Florida, whether they agree with him or not, are on the hook for the legal fees in the courts.  It’s going to cost millions to bring the suits that he’s destined to lose because of that pesky Constitution and its meddling First Amendment, not to mention the Fourteenth with that so-unfair equal protection clause, and meanwhile the public education system — both K-12 and university level — is in stagnation and consternation by his micromanaging the local school boards by appointing his wormtongues and toadies.  It will take years and millions of dollars to bring the sanity back, and good luck to any student who graduates from a Florida school tainted by his antebellum views of history and the rights of people who don’t look like him.  No reputable college outside of Florida will see these students as receiving what the Florida Constitution itself promises: the best education the state can offer.

In 1972 when George Wallace was campaigning for the presidency again, he was shot and paralyzed in an assassination attempt.  He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, and at the end of his life, he made an effort to atone not only for his words when he was governor, but for what damage he caused to the people of his state and this country.  No one would wish a fate on Mr. DeSantis, but one wonders what it will take for him to finally see the damage he will have wrought on the people of Florida who didn’t vote for him and make amends.  Based on his record and his rhetoric, I do not hold out much hope that he will ever see the Light.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Dramatic Memories

Fifteen years ago tonight “Can’t Live Without You” opened for six performances in New York at Manhattan Rep.

It was my first New York production, and it was the first full-length that I had written in over twenty years. Since then it’s gone on to be produced at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, in 2019, and published in 2022 by Next Stage Press. I will always be grateful to Rachel Charlop-Powers for being the force of nature behind it, and to the cast that included Rachel, Tom Pilutik, Gary Lee Mahmoud, Mary Fassino, and the late Will Poston, all directed by Adam Natale, for bringing it to life. “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Sunday Reading

So Far, Pretty Damn Good — Robert S. McElvaine on Joe Biden’s first two years.

Scientific polling did not yet exist in Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s first two years as president, but it is beyond question that his approval was enormous. During Lyndon Baines Johnson‘s first year-plus in office, his approval rating averaged an astonishing 74.2 percent. At the end of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.’s second year in office, his approval ratings hover in the mid-40s. It would seem laughable, then, to categorize him as being on their level. FDR is almost always counted among the greatest American presidents. LBJ is not, but likely would be had he not sunk the nation into a pointless, no-win war in Southeast Asia.

Yet a strong case can be made that JRB has, to this point, proven to be a great president, worthy of mention alongside those two.

As a historian who has devoted a couple of decades each to researching and writing on the eras in which the second President Roosevelt and the second President Johnson were in office, I can make that case. My book “The Great Depression: America 1929-1941” remains among the standard histories of that era. The time frame of my new book, “The Times They were a-Changin’,” is what I call “the Long 1964,” from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the fall of 1965 — precisely Lyndon Johnson’s first two years as president.

Each of the three men was greatly underestimated when he entered the presidency. “Franklin D. Roosevelt is,” Walter Lippman famously wrote in early 1932, “a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President.” The elite intellectuals of the Kennedy administration mocked Vice President Johnson as “Rufus Cornpone” and “freckle-belly.” Biden was — and in many quarters still is — seen as too unexciting, too old and so on.

Both FDR and LBJ began their presidencies against the backdrop of national tragedies that provided the potential for strong support for their programs. Roosevelt took office at the nadir of the Great Depression. “The whole country is with him,” humorist Will Rogers said. “If he burned down the Capitol, they would cheer and say, ‘Well, at least he got a fire started, anyhow!'” Johnson coming to power following the shock of the assassination allowed him, as he later put it, to market his plans as “the dead man’s program and turn it into a martyr’s cause.”

The pandemic served as something of a parallel to what the Depression was for Roosevelt, and the horrors of Trumpism and the Jan. 6 Insurrection could have provided a propellant similar to the assassination for Biden, but Donald Trump’s cult-leader control over a large fraction of the population got them to believe two huge lies: that Trump had done a good job handling the pandemic and that Biden had not really won the election.

The more notable accomplishments during Roosevelt’s first 24 months include several important pieces of Depression-related legislation, such as the Emergency Banking Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act, as well as the creation of numerous new federal agencies, some of which are still with us — including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Housing Administration, the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation and the Tennessee Valley Authority — and others now part of history, like the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration and the Civil Works Administration. (Some of the New Deal legislation of the most lasting importance, such as the Social Security Act and the Wagner Labor Relations Act, came later, in the second half of FDR’s first term.)

In his first two years in office, Lyndon Johnson oversaw the massive achievements of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the Economic Opportunity Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Housing and Urban Development Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act, which eliminated national origin, race and ancestry as criteria for being allowed to immigrate into the United States. His administration also launched Medicare and Medicaid, Project Head Start and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.

Biden’s two-year record stacks up well against the very high bars set by FDR and LBJ, beginning with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to stimulate the economy, followed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to provide for repairs and extensions to the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, water systems (the need for which is obvious, for instance, in Jackson, Mississippi, where I live) and broadband. In 2022, he secured passage of the PACT Act, expanding health care and benefits for those who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service, and the CHIPS and Science Act, funding advanced scientific research and investing $53 billion to manufacture silicone microchips in the U.S. The crown jewel in 2022 was the Inflation Reduction Act, which does more than any previous legislation to mitigate climate change, allows Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma to cut prescription drug prices, begins to crack down on tax evasion by corporations and the very rich and much more. In December, the Respect for Marriage Act, protecting both same-sex and interracial marriage, was passed, as were a reform of the Electoral Count Act, making it more difficult to overturn an election, and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Biden has also excelled on the international stage far more than Roosevelt did in his first two years — and more than Johnson ever did. Biden rallied the forces of democracy to oppose Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian aggression and aid Ukraine and revived NATO, which Trump had on the verge of collapse.

To grasp just how much harder it is to enact a progressive program in the 2020s than it was in the mid-1960s, consider this: In 1964, 77 percent of Americans polled — and, astonishingly, 74 percent of Republicans — said they believed that the federal government could be trusted all or most of the time. By 2019, only 17 percent of those polled trusted the federal government.

And then there is the enormous advantage that FDR and LBJ had in terms of the makeup of Congress, where both had large Democratic majorities. “We would sit around in the White House and ask each other, ‘What needs to be done?'” Dick Goodwin, then special assistant to President Johnson, later told me in recalling early 1965. “We should be able to pass anything we want to.” Biden had a small House majority and a 50-50 Senate.

In Olympic competitions, the “degree of difficulty” of a dive, gymnastic performance or ice-skating jump is factored into the score. If we do the same with Biden, anyone but an East German judge during a Cold War-era Olympics would award him a very high score. His first two years rival the accomplishments of both Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, the two most effective of 20th-century presidents — and as was said about Ginger Rogers doing everything that Fred Astaire could do, Biden had to do it dancing “backward and in high heels.”

Doonesbury — Clothes make the dad…

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Friday, January 20, 2023

Happy Friday

Nobody said that Ron DeSantis doesn’t have a sense of timing: two weeks before the start of Black History Month comes this bit of brilliance.

Florida will not recognize a newly created Advanced Placement African American studies course, with officialsarguing that the lessons are illegal under state law and that the class “significantly lacks educational value.”

The decision is the latest volley in Gov. Ron DeSantis’s long-running war on what he considers to be overly “woke” curriculum. The Republican governor is widely seen as positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2024 and has made culture-war issues central to his political identity.

Florida’slegislature has enacted laws limiting how teachers can talk about subjects including race. A measure signed last spring, for instance, seeks to ensure that students are not made to feel guilty for racist acts carried out by others. “A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part,” the law states.

It was not clear, though, exactly what in the new AP class runs afoul of those limitations.

The decision was communicated to the College Board, which runs the AP program, in a letter last week that was released to reporters Thursday.

“In its current form, the College Board’s AP African American Studies course lacks educational value and is contrary to Florida law,” Cassie Palelis, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said in a statement. “If the course comes into compliance and incorporates historically accurate content, the Department will reopen the discussion.”

She said that under Florida law, districts need state approval to offer a course to their students.

The AP African American studies course, an interdisciplinary class that draws from history, literature, political science, art and other subjects, is being piloted in about 60 public high schools across the country, the first new course offering from the College Board since 2014. It was unclear whether any Florida schools are included in the pilot program.

I’m not saying that Ron DeSantis is racist.  No, not at all.

Something to soothe the nerves.

Vanda orchid in bloom.

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