The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

Disney v. DeSantis: Don’t Mess With the Mouse

I have the impression that Disney executives and attorneys have spent the past several days giggling.

Yesterday CNN reported that Disney has been telling its bondholders that the special district created in 1967 will not be dissolved, so don’t worry about it. What Disney knew, and Gov. DeSantis et al. apparently did not, is that the 1967 agreement creating the special district could not be ended until the distrinct’s bond debt was paid off. And it’s going to take roughly $1 billion to make that happen.

Now DeSantis is bravely promising that Disney will pay the $1 billion. Yeah, right after Mexico pays for the wall.

In an Orlando town hall with Fox News, DeSantis said Disney will be paying their own bond debt.

“It just simply ends with them being treated the same as every other company in Florida,” he said. “They’re going to follow laws. They’re not going to have their own government. They’re going to pay their debts, pay their taxes.”

DeSantis told Fox News host Laura Ingram that there will be more legislation to address questions raised about tax implications of unraveling Disney’s self-governing status. …

… “There’s going to be additional legislative action,” said DeSantis. “We’ve contemplated that. We know what we’re going to do, so stay tuned; that’ll all be apparent.”

No, they don’t know what they’re going to do. There’s a contract. Disney has lived up to its part of the contract. There’s no honest court in the U.S. that would let DeSantis shred that contract. Maybe DeSantis is counting on some Trump judges to help him out.

Here’s a good article at Bloomberg that explains the bond issue in detail. I’ll just quote a little bit.

In authorizing Reedy Creek to issue bonds, the Florida legislature included a remarkable statement—included in Reedy Creek’s bond offerings—regarding its own promise to bondholders: “The State of Florida pledges to the holders of any bonds issued under this Act that it will not limit or alter the rights of the District to own, acquire, construct, reconstruct, improve, maintain, operate or furnish the projects or to levy and collect the taxes, assessments, rentals, rates, fees, tolls, fares and other charges provided for herein … until all such bonds together with interest thereon, and all costs and expenses in connection with any action or proceeding by or on behalf of such holders, are fully met and discharged.”

The bill dissolving Reedy Creek doesn’t say what should happen to these debts, but another statute does: By default, the local general-purpose government—the county—assumes the district’s debt, along with all of its assets. This means that theoretically, Orange and Osceola counties will inherit upward of $1 billion in bond debt.

And then the article goes into more detail that explains why even transfering the bond debt to Orange and Osceola counties, as burdensome as that would be, is probably not possible without violating a whole lot of other laws plus the U.S. and Florida constitutions. It’s a contract, dude. Even if the state of Florida tried to write a check to pay off the debt, they’d still run into a problem. One of the bonds cannot be redeemed until 2029.

The author of the Bloomberg piece, a Florida lawyer, concludes:

Florida simply cannot promise to prospective bondholders that it won’t interfere with Reedy Creek, and then dissolve Reedy Creek. If Reedy Creek is ever dissolved, it would be a monumental and complicated enterprise even on a years-long timeline. The district has a nine-figure annual budget for expenditures, and even ignoring its various debts, it has a plethora of other contracts that somehow would have to be assigned to and divided between Orange and Osceola counties. However, the dissolution will have to wait until all of its bonds are paid in full.

And if DeSantis thinks the Florida legislature can just pass some more laws and make these issues go away, perhaps they’ve been snorting a bit too much pixie dust.

See also Paul Waldman, The new Republican statism:

… everywhere you look, Republicans are trying to redirect power upward, to consolidate and centralize authority in their hands.

This is an outright rejection of the way conservatism in America has described itself for decades. Conservatives have always said they are philosophically opposed to the centralization of power: They want “local control” of schools, they love unfettered free markets, they wax rhapsodic about the decentralized wonder of federalism and the dangers of the government’s heavy hand.

At least that’s what they used to say. But you aren’t hearing that kind of talk much lately from Republicans. What they’re advocating now is nothing short of a new statism.

Which is why it would be a mistake to see these conflicts as just about the culture war. The new right-wing thirst for authoritarianism crosses policy boundaries; it’s no accident that this comes even as many right-wing intellectual types are seeing a model in Hungarian dictator Viktor Orban’s use of culture-war fearmongering to justify the consolidation of economic and political power. While they praise his anti-gay efforts, it’s also his authoritarianism that thrills them.

This isn’t really a surprise; Republican rhetoric about “getting government off your back” never applied to abortion, for example, or a lot of other things Republicans wanted to restrict or ban. They just wanted “freedom” from policies they didn’t agree with. Right-wing notions of “liberty” aren’t really about liberty but their own privilege do what they want and strip the same privilege from anyone who disagrees. And you see that big time in Ron DeSantis’s recent move, that IMO can’t end any other way but making him look stupid.

SCOTUS, Culture Warriors, and School Prayer

One of the cases SCOTUS heard this week is Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which according to SCOTUSblog is about “(1) Whether a public-school employee who says a brief, quiet prayer by himself while at school and visible to students is engaged in government speech that lacks any First Amendment protection; and (2) whether, assuming that such religious expression is private and protected by the free speech and free exercise clauses, the establishment clause nevertheless compels public schools to prohibit it.”

However, according to Mark Joseph Stern at Slate, this case is based on is built on “a series of brazen lies designed to depict the plaintiff, Coach Joe Kennedy, as a victim of anti-Christian discrimination—and to erase the students whom he coerced into prayer.”

The plaintiff’s lawyers insist that he was fired from his job as a football coach for engaging in “quiet, private prayer” at the 50-yard line after games. The extensive record developed in the district court tells a different story. It demonstrates that Kennedy formed prayer circles with team members after each game, leading the students in audible Christian prayer while in the midst of his formal duties. When the school district asked him to pray privately instead, he claimed he had been persecuted for his religious exercise.

Kennedy hired far-right lawyers who threatened legal action against the school district, transforming the postgame ritual into a media spectacle. Eventually, students began racing onto the field to join the prayer circle, creating a 500-person stampede that injured multiple people. Put simply, there was nothing “quiet” or “private” about Kennedy’s proselytization. (Also, he wasn’t fired; he was placed on paid leave.)

Yeah, that’s way different. Stern goes on to quote a number of former football players who say they did feel coerced into joining the prayers, and the prayers made them uncomfortable and did not reflect their personal religious views. And that, children, is a violation of the establishment clause on its face. Lower courts hearing this case sided with the school.

A number of news stories about this case take the coach’s version of facts at face value, and the facts are essential to understanding if the First Amendment is violated or not. The establishment clause of the First Amendment forbids Congress (and through the Fourteenth Amendment, state and local government also) from “establishment of” religion, which means recognizing an official state religion or favoring one religion over another. The establishment clause does not forbid acts of religious expression on public school or other government property; it forbids the government itself, or its elected officials or employees, from using the power of government to promote religion or coerce people into taking part in religion if they don’t want to.

It’s important to understand that these “religious freedom” cases often are not really about protecting the free exercise of religion against secular, anti-religion oppressors. They are about whether one particular religious tradition can get away with special privileges over other religious people and the non-religious. Back to Mark Joseph Stern:

One member of the football team during Kennedy’s tenure, who came forward under a pseudonym for fear of retaliation, attested that he refused to bow his head because Kennedy’s prayers did not align with his own beliefs. He was then “persecuted” for failing to conform, treated poorly by the coaches and permitted to play only because of his talent on the field. The experience still haunts him, as well as others who felt queasy about the indoctrination they faced at school. These players, the student said, “would rather forget about that time of their life.”

There was another case involving prayers and football games back in 2000, which was Santa Fe Independent School District v. DoeIn that case, the school district had a long-standing practice of having a student deliver a prayer on the school’s public address system before every football game. The student delivering the prayer was chosen by vote of the student body. The suit seeking to stop the prayers was not brought by atheists but by Catholic and Mormon parents who objected to the content of the prayers and didn’t want to feel coerced into taking part in them. The nature of the parent’s objections was rarely reported accurately in news stories, as I remember, and Christian conservatives who were not Catholic or Mormon persisted in calling the decision to stop the prayers anti-Christian and anti-religion.

The school district argued that the nature of the prayer and the person delivering it were chosen by vote of the students, not the school, so that made it okay. But as Justice Stevens said, “this student election does nothing to protect minority views but rather places the students who hold such views at the mercy of the majority.” In other words, it didn’t protect an individual’s right to not be coerced into religious expression. The Court held (6-3) that individuals on school property can pray all they want to, but a prayer mandated by the school district and delivered over the school’s public address system at a school event made it the school’s religious expression, which was out of bounds. The election mechanism didn’t magically turn the school’s speech into private speech.

BTW, the three dissenters in the Santa Fe case were Renquist, Scalia, and Thomas. And we’ve still got Thomas.

See also my post from 2006 about what happens when an evangelical family goes to a public high school football game and must sit through a pre-game invocation that is not Christian at all, but Buddhist. Hilarity ensues.

Coercion is not necessarily an explicit thing. Children of minority religions, or no religion, can be subjected to all kinds of peer pressure and bullying by children of the majority religion, even if the school itself is trying to not be coercive.

But then there’s the current Court, which is expected to side with the coach. At Harvard Law Today, law professor Sanford Levinson basically says this is not a case that past courts would have bothered with.

So, why in the world did the Supreme Court take this case? I think it’s because there are now at least four justices — that’s all it takes for the Court to take a case — who are active soldiers in the culture wars and who are on the side of anybody with a religious claim against the secular authorities. My hunch is that there are five justices — and maybe six, with Chief Justice Roberts — who will accept some version of the coach’s story and say that he wins. And this will be billed in some circles as yet another way that the Supreme Court is protecting us, that is, religious believers, against their secular oppressors.

In other words, a decision in favor of the coach won’t be a decision based on the Constitution and precedent, but on the biases of the majority of the justices. And then expect most public schools in the South and Midwest, and probably other places, to start reading explicitly evangelical prayers over the loudspeakers at football games again. Give these people an inch, and they’ll take ten thousand miles.

See also The GOP Is No Longer a Party. It’s a Movement to Impose White Christian Nationalism by Jennifer Rubin at WaPo. “Our political problems are significant, but they are minor compared with the moral confusion that is afflicting the millions of White Christian Americans who consider themselves victims,” she says.

And see Prayer on the Field Should Not Be a Problem from an Islamic website called Ummah Sports. The person who wrote this doesn’t quite grasp the Constitutional issues and the distinction between private and government speech. But he includes this photo of Algerian soccer players at the 2014 World Cup:

Yeah, come on down, folks. Pray all you want. The sight of that would convert the evangelicals to the wisdom of separation of church and state faster than they can say “Amen.”

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Failing Memories

Marjorie Taylor Greene spent a large part of Friday testifying in a Georgia courtroom that she doesn’t remember anything. For example:

Now, if I had advised the President of the United States to impose martial law I believe I would remember I had done so. But perhaps Greene’s memories have been scrambled by Jewish space lasers.

Today CNN published  2,319 text messages sent and received by Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. And lo, Greene had emailed Meadows on the martial law idea.

The records showed that Greene texted Meadows on Jan. 17, 11 days after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, to raise the question of whether Trump might invoke martial law.

“In our private chat with only Members, several are saying the only way to save our Republic is for Trump to call for Marshall [sic] law. I don’t know on those things. I just wanted you to tell him,” Greene wrote. “They stole this election. We all know. They will destroy our country next. Please tell him to declassify as much as possible so we can go after Biden and anyone else!”

It was unclear whether Meadows responded to her message.

So she didn’t “advocate” directly to Trump to impose martial law; she “advocated” to his chief of staff. Whether this will have an impact on the outcome of the Georgia trial I do not know. Some of Greene’s constituents are trying to keep her off the ballot by citing Section 3 of the 14th Amendment —

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Well, yeah, she pretty much did. I understand the challenge to her eligibility is a long shot, though.

Pence Didn’t Trust the Secret Service

This is creepy:

Speaking at a Thursday event hosted by the Georgetown University’s Center on Faith and Justice, Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who is also a member of the committee investigating the Capitol riot, accused former President Donald Trump of attempting to organize a coup to circumvent Joe Biden‘s victory in the 2020 presidential election and stay in power. During the talk, he called special attention to a tense moment involving Pence, NBC News reported.

After being taken to an undisclosed portion of the Capitol during the riot, Pence’s Secret Service agents, whom Raskin suspected were reporting directly to Trump’s security detail, asked him to enter an armored limousine. The intent, some have theorized, was to drive Pence away from the building, preventing him from certifying the election results, after he had signaled his unwillingness to go against his duties and keep Trump in power.

“[Pence] uttered what I think are the six most chilling words of this entire thing I’ve seen so far: ‘I’m not getting in that car,'” Raskin said. “He knew exactly what this inside coup they had planned for was going to do.”

One, I think it’s time that the Secret Service is disbanded and presidential security assigned elsewhere. Surely there is some part of the nation’s huge national security section capable of taking on the job.  The Secret Service appears to be hopelessly inept and corrupt. The bizarre story of the two guys who duped the Secret Service into believing they were federal agents is just the most recent example of how screwed up they are. It’s a wonder none of the people they are supposed to be protecting have been harmed.

Two, every time we turn around there is more evidence that the January 6 insurrection was planned as part of an attempted coup, and a whole lot of elected Republicans were in on it. This is from yesterday.

Republican members of Congress were heavily involved in calls and meetings with former President Donald Trump and his top aides as they devised a strategy to overturn the election in December 2020, according to new evidence filed in federal court late Friday.

Deposition excerpts filed by the Jan 6. select committee — part of an effort to force former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to appear for an interview — suggest that some of Trump’s top allies in Congress were frequently present in meetings where a handful of strategies to prevent then-President-elect Joe Biden from taking office were discussed, including efforts to replace the leadership of the Justice Department with figures who would sow doubts about the legitimacy of the election.

Of course they were. Of course they did.

Elsewhere — It appears Macron will get another term as President of France. That’s a relief; Le Pen would have been a disaster.

Julian Borger writes in The Guardian that Mohammed bin Salman is betting big that Trump will get the White House back in 2024.

Saudi Arabia appears to be banking on Donald Trump’s return to office by refusing to help the US punish Russia for the Ukraine invasion, and by placing $2bn in a new, untested investment fund run by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. …

…The kingdom’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, reportedly declined to take a call from Joe Biden last month, showing his displeasure at the administration’s restrictions on arms sales; what he saw as its insufficient response to attacks on Saudi Arabia by Houthi forces in Yemen; its publication of a report into the Saudi regime’s 2018 murder of the dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi; and Biden’s prior refusal to deal in person with the crown prince.

Instead, Prince Mohammed shows signs of betting on the return to office of Trump in 2024, and the resumption of the Trump administration’s cosy relationship with Riyadh.

MBS is the kind of guy that somebody, someday, is going to depose. And not gently. Not right away, but someday.

DeSantis Versus the Mouse and Raging Polynomials

Disney World in Florida attracts more than 50 million visitors a year to an area of central Florida that was previously known only for stifling heat, cheap land, and military bases. It generates more than $5 billion every year in local and state tax revenue, it says here, which is handy in a state that prides itself on making do without a state personal income tax. I understand that Disney is also the single biggest employer in the state of Florida.

Today the Florida legislature passed a bill that dissolves a special district that allows the Walt Disney Company to act as its own government within the outer limits of Orange and Osceola counties. “The special district, enacted in 1967 to entice Disney to build a theme park 20 miles south of Orlando, saves the company millions of dollars annually in fees and taxes,” it says here.

There is a righteous debate to be had over the practice of giving big corporations special tax breaks or other incentives to intice them to move to your state or city. There is a lot wrong with that, IMO. But today’s bill will impact a lot of people beside Disney and its employees.

Dissolving the district would mean Reedy Creek employees and infrastructure would be absorbed by the local counties, which would then become responsible for all municipal services. The counties would collect the tax revenue Disney currently pays the Reedy Creek district, but would also be saddled with the districts liabilities. Namely, its debt.

Reedy Creek historically operates at a loss of around $5 million to $10 million each year, according to its financial reports. But since Disney can subsidize its own operations with theme park revenue, that debt doesn’t have much impact on its bottom line.

According to lawmakers, there’s around $1 billion in debt on the balance sheet that taxpayers would become responsible for should the special district get absorbed, leading to higher taxes.

Was this really a smart move for a guy running for re-election? That would be Gov. Ron DeSantis. He’s way ahead in the polls I understand, but it’s a long way to November. On the other hand, the effects of this mess won’t be felt until next year.

I’ve seen commentary saying that today’s bill benefits Disney, because costs formerly paid by Disney will now be paid by taxpayers. Whether Disney agrees that the bill benefits them I cannot say. They might rather be in control of their own maintenance and upkeep. Once they have to wait for taxpayer approval, potholes and general decay are likely to set in.

DeSantis is angry with Disney because it issued a statement critical of DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Apparently dissent is not allowed in DeSantis’s Florida. Jonathan Chait:

After DeSantis signed an anti-gay measure, Disney issued a statement condemning it, and suspended its political donations, which had previously included generous support for DeSantis. In retaliation, DeSantis rushed through a measure targeting Disney’s legal status. He is establishing a new norms in Republican politics: Corporations that publicly question the party’s preferred policy, or withhold donations in protest, will be subject to discriminatory policy. If they enjoy favorable regulatory or tax treatment, they can continue to do so on the condition that they stay in the GOP’s political good graces.

This is one way rulers like Orban and Putin hold power. It is a method that, until quite recently, would have been considered unthinkable in the United States. That bright line has been obliterated. Trump and DeSantis have now made it almost unremarkable.

DeSantis has admitted in interviews that his bill ending Disney’s deal with Florida is purely in retaliation for Disney’s criticism of the “don’t say gay” bill, which IMO Disney pretty much had to release as a public relations measure. Being seen as pro-homophobic is bad for business, I’m sure. But it seems to me an argument could be made that if today’s bill is a retaliation it amounts to a bill of attainder or ex-post facto law, which is prohibited in Article I, Section 9, paragraph 3, of the U.S. Constitution. Not that DeSantis gives a hoo haw about the Constitution.

Right-wing media nearly entirely sides with DeSantis, who has been raving about Disney’s “woke” and “California” values. Anything associated with the words “woke” and “Califiornia” are automatically reviled on the Right.

Jonathan Chait quotes National Review:

“These corporations assume that it’s still 2010, and that our genteel Marquess of Queensberry norms will prevent conservatives from retaliating against their many political campaigns and rhetorical posturing against us.”

It seems the principle that the government should not coerce private firms into supporting the regime was devised by Marquess of Queensberry, who was probably a communist. 

On to other Florida news:

The state of Florida released a list of the textbooks rejected in its recent math adoption. Because I’m a veteran of the textbook wars I scanned this with some interest. It appears that two of the big guns of the K-12 textbook industry, Pearson and Scholastic, decided to sit this one out. This doesn’t surprise me a whole lot. The publishers submit printed and bound books with ancillaries, not manuscripts. To develop, print and bind even a few copies of a K-12 textbook series requires an army of staff and suppliers and is an investment of a few million dollars, easily. I read in an article from 2004 that producing a K-8 reading program can cost as much as $60 million. If there’s a significant chance the books will be declared unsalable by a handful of political appointees on a textbook adoption committee, would you risk it? Especially since the books have “Florida” all over them and couldn’t be used in other states?

And people wonder why textbooks cost so much.

Now, why were they rejected? Florida claimed it was because they taught Critical Race Theory, among other things. Three people at Popular Information — Judd Legum, Tesnim Zekeria, and Rebecca Crosby — got hold of some of the rejected books. And here is what they found.

There was no discussion of race, racism, or anything that could be construed as related to CRT in any of the textbooks. While the vast majority of the textbooks focused on basic math skills, they also encouraged students to reflect on how they learn and work with their classmates. In general, the textbooks encouraged young students to be nice to each other and themselves. 

That’s right. Florida objects to children being nice.

Florida Reveal Math Grade 5, which was also rejected, uses similar prompts to encourage students to think critically about how they work with others in the classroom setting. “When we do math, we listen to the arguments of others and think about what makes sense and what doesn’t,” the book states in the introduction. 

Other prompts encourage critical thinking and highlight relationship skills, such as: “What can I learn from others’ thinking about the problem?” and “What can you do to help all classmates feel comfortable in math class?”

This being nice stuff is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), which Ron DeSantis opposes.

In a press conference on Monday, DeSantis defended the decision, focusing on SEL. Right-wing activists claim that SEL is CRT by another name but that is inaccurate. SEL focuses on the development of “critical thinking, emotion management, conflict resolution, decision making, [and] teamwork” — skills that are necessary for students to excel in school and in life. The term dates back to a 1997 book but the concept of character development dates back at least to Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1700s.

“You know, math is about getting the right answer and we want kids to learn to think so they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem or to introduce some of these other things,” DeSantis said

Teaching children to work collaboratively without fighting and to develop emotional intelligence is not a bad thing, IMO. The Mahadaughter, who writes and edits K-12 math textbooks for a living, weighed in on Facebook and pointed out that the stuff Florida opjects to is basically the same stuff they teach on Sesame Street. “SEL teaches such Sesame Street concepts as ‘be kind and courteous ‘ ‘be curious about the world’ and ‘be a good sport,’ and I legit don’t understand why this is controversial, unless you want your kids to be angry monsters?”

Well, maybe they do want their kids to be angry monsters.

The three reviewers are genuinely baffled as to why some high school level books were rejected.

Florida’s decision to reject several high school math textbooks is especially puzzling. Popular Information obtained a digital copy of Functions Modeling Change, one of five precalculus books that were rejected by Florida for the inclusion of prohibited topics. 

Functions Modeling Change contains 10 mentions of “race” but all are related to running and biking. There is no discussion of racism and no math problems that deal with racial issues. There is also no discussion of emotions, teamwork, conflict resolution, or anything else associated with SEL. Instead, it is full of quadratic functions, trigonometry, and parametric equations. Another rejected precalculus book, Precalculus with Limits, has very similar content. So why were these textbooks rejected?

Maybe DeSantis thought Calculus and Precalculus were degenerate Roman Emperors?

Dana Milbank also reviewed Precalculus With Limits. This is brilliant:

At a time when Floridians by law “don’t say gay,” much less “trans,” this banned book brazenly teaches about the “Transitive Property of Equality.” Not only are impressionable minds taught about the “transformation of functions,” but also they are even indoctrinated in “describing transformations” and — appallingly — “sketching transformations.”

At a time when DeSantis is trying to restore the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, “Precalculus With Limits” has endless references to “sin” and “polynomials” — even “multiplying polynomials.” On Page 318, for example, it tells children to believe that “sin x takes on its full range of values.” Valuing sin! On Page 734, incredibly, it orders children to “sketch the graph of the degenerate conic.” Disgusting.

At a time when Florida is banning the acknowledgment of gender fluidity or any identity outside male and female, this subversive textbook unabashedly tells suggestible children that such things exist as “reciprocal identities,” “cofunction identities,” “additive identity property” and even “multiplicative identity property.”

Right now, all Floridians should be fighting the radical socialists, but “Precalculus With Limits” is inviting children to find the “simplest form of a radical equation,” or even to take a perfectly normal equation and “rewrite with a radical.” Which radical? Saul Alinsky?

Next thing you know, Disney World will be celebrating Polynomial Day, and all kinds of openly polynomial characters will show up and flaunt their polynomialism in public. I can see why DeSantis was appalled.

See also Steve M.

Republicans Attack Inflation With Magical Thinking

One of the abiding characteristics of righties is that they don’t know how anything works. They blame high gas prices on President Biden, for example. They never did grasp what covid is or how it spread or why masks have been recommended or why getting vaccinated is a good idea. They don’t understand why broken supply chains are causing shortages and higher prices. I have no idea what percentage of them could define “supply chain.”

A couple of days ago, Paul Waldman described the Ohio Republican Senate candidates’ fantastic promises to, among other things, end inflation. For example, Ted Cruz made a television ad for Josh Mandel in which he said “Want to stop Biden’s inflation? Send someone who’s done it before.” Mandel has never in his life stopped inflation anywhere, mind you.  Paul Waldman continues,

Cruz then closes with a repeat of the claim: “End Biden’s inflation? Send Josh Mandel to Washington.”

Of all the over-the-top claims we’ve seen in campaign ads so far this year, this might be the most preposterous. Are we supposed to believe a single freshman senator is going to “end” inflation in America?

Is one backbench senator going to repair global supply chains, accelerate production of computer chips, reduce demand for consumer goods, increase the supply of construction materials and bring down international shipping costs?

And if one senator is capable of all that, how come Cruz himself hasn’t done it, with all the majestic powers of his office? Is he just waiting for Mandel to get elected so he can take care of it?

The entire federal government has limited options for addressing these issues in the short term, especially since many of the supply chains originate in other countries. Most of the supply problems are the result of many private business decisions that resulted in all of us being way too dependent on a few foreign suppliers for too many essential products or parts. This is the fruit of free market capitalism, in other words.

I was in a grocery store today and overheard a fellow complain about the price of beef. Does he know that only four meatpackers control the U.S. beef industry? The CEOs of those four companies recently agreed to testify to the House Agriculture Committee why consumer prices keep going up while cattle growers’ profits keep going down. I’m looking forward to that.

Oh, and avian flu is causing egg prices to go up. Shit does happen.

Another Ohio Senate candidate, Jane Timken, has released an ad promising to “stop Biden’s socialist agenda and runaway inflation.” Yeah, righties don’t know what socialism is. But how does she plan to end runaway inflation? By balancing the budget. Hello? Federal deficit spending is not a cause of inflation.

And Republicans don’t balance budgets. The last Republican to balance the federal budget was Dwight Eisenhower. He accomplished that in part by not cutting taxes. This was when the top marginal tax rate was 90 percent. You know that as soon as Republicans take over the federal government again they’ll cut the top tax rates again, and the deficit will grow. That’s what always happens when Republicans are in charge of the budget. From Ford onward every administration has had a budget deficit in excess of 2 percent of GDP, with the exception of Bill Clinton, who really did balance the budget. Then George W. Bush was handed a balanced budget, so he promptly cut taxes and got us into a stupid war that was mostly funded off the books with emergency wartime supplemental appropriations so that the cost wouldn’t show up in the official budget and upset people. But I digress.

Back to Paul Waldman:

Another candidate, Matt Dolan, tells a lie about Biden — that he “banned oil exploration” on his first day as president — and says that’s the cause of all our inflation. Dolan vows to solve inflation by fighting Biden’s “energy agenda.”

Do these people grasp what the word “inflation” means?

Of course, in 2016 Donald Trump made all kinds of promises that any sensible person knew he couldn’t possibly keep, and he didn’t, yet he doesn’t seem to have paid a price for his incompetence with his devoted base. I’m not sure that righties actually grasp cause and effect.

Evil Publishers Indoctrinating Florida Children With Math!

Since I wrote a long post yesterday I wasn’t going to post today, but this is too funny.

Tallahassee, Fla., April 15, 2022 – Today, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran approved Florida’s initial adoption list for mathematics instructional materials properly aligned to Florida’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards. The approved list followed a thorough review of submissions at the Department, which found 41 percent of the submitted textbooks were impermissible with either Florida’s new standards or contained prohibited topics – the most in Florida’s history. Reasons for rejecting textbooks included references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics. The highest number of books rejected were for grade levels K-5, where an alarming 71 percent were not appropriately aligned with Florida standards or included prohibited topics and unsolicited strategies. Despite rejecting 41 percent of materials submitted, every core mathematics course and grade is covered with at least one textbook.

Oh, those dastardly textbook publishers. But this left me wondering how they brilliantly managed to work critical race theory into math textbooks. Are there problems that discuss housing discrimination? Tampa Bay broadcaster WTSP says most of the rejected books were for grades K through 5, which kind of deepens the mystery.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel wondered the same thing.

The education department didn’t provide an example of critical race theory in the rejected textbooks, instead sending a list of two documents that did not contain specific examples.

Critical race theory, first proposed by legal scholars, says racism is embedded in the country’s institutions. Historically, the theory has been a law or graduate school subject and not one taught in public schools.

I am a veteran of the K-12 textbook industry. I assure you that it’s the primary goal of textbook publishers to sell books, not to indoctrinate anybody. And usually they bend over backward trying to accommodate what state textbook adoption committees want, even if the editorial staff grumbles about it.

But it’s also the case that textbook series are expensive things. They are supposed to be visually appealing, meaning they have lots of pretty color illustrations, usually on every spread (two facing pages). Spreads with just type are to be avoided. But this is expensive, and a lot of the cost happens in the printing set up, or prepress, phase. That cost is the same whether you are printing 10 books or 100,000 books. So, obviously, the per unit cost goes down the more identical books you can print and sell.

It’s also the case that there are new printing technologies that allow for small-batch printing of books with color illustrations at lower cost, but I don’t know where the industry is with that. It’s possible smaller publishers who aren’t going for nationwide sales would be better positioned to produce boutique books to order.

Anyway, for this reason, publishers don’t want to publish 50 wildly different editions of the same series. Ideally, they can publish textbooks that are innocuous enough to not push the buttons of anyone on a textbook committee. If one state insists on something that would be a poison pill elsewhere, ideally this can be accommodated by minor text tweaks that don’t require changing the illustrations, which reduces prepress costs somewhat. What they don’t want to do is develop a math textbook for one state that is based on an entirely different approach to math teaching than what is commonly used elsewhere.

Of course, I really, really wanted to know which textbook publishers were rejected, but I couldn’t find that information. On the list of publishers accepted, the only names I recognized were Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw Hill, for whom I worked for a while to produce a math K-12 series, ca. 2003-2004. Two of the big shots of the industry that don’t seem to be represented are Pearson and Scholastic. I’d love to know if they were rejected or just decided to not bother.

WaPo:

What could be in a math textbook that would promote critical race theory and other “prohibited” subjects? Though the department described the textbook review process as “transparent,” it did not mention which textbooks had been rejected or cite examples from the offending passages.

“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was quoted as saying in the announcement.

What “race essentialism”? Especially in K-5 textbooks? The only way race was ever represented in any math textbook series I worked on was in the illustrations, which back in my day were required to depict children of all races and not just white ones. Did DeSantis see photos of black and brown children in the textbooks and freak out?

Florida’s education department also mentioned that some of the textbooks were linked to Common Core, a reference to the Common Core State Standards that Florida and most other states adopted more than a dozen years ago. The standards have since been replaced in a number of states, including Florida, which has seen a succession of different content standards over the last dozen years.

The BEST standards were adopted two years ago, when even Jacob Oliva, who is Florida’s chancellor for the Education Department’s division of public schools, acknowledged that some of the new standards were similar to Common Core. [Florida commissioner of education Richard] Corcoran said that wasn’t true.

Maybe 2 + 2 no longer equals 4 in Florida. Who knows?

Russia Invaded Ukraine for Imaginary Reasons

Here’s some history that may seem irrelevant to anything going on now, and maybe it is, but I want to use it to make a point.

While researching my book The Circle of the Way I learned a lot about Japanese history, beginning about 552 CE, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan, to the present day. This includes the militarization of Japan that began in the late 19th century and which terminated in defeat in the Pacific War, 1945. With the caveat that I’m hardly an expert on Japanese history, it does seem to me that the driving purpose behind that militarization arose from things buried deeply in Japan’s history, and in the Japanese psyche. The reasons for Japan’s wars of aggression were more sociopsychological and sociocultural than geopolitical.

Beginning in the 8th century, Japanese emperors developed a unique problem — too many sons. These sons were delivered of several women, but Japan didn’t seem to have developed the concept of illegitimacy, so all the sons were considered noble and potential heirs to the throne. And they all required an inheritance, so they were not only a potential source of political instability but also a drain on the budget. Daughters could be married off, but what do you do with surplus sons?

The answer, for several emperors, was to strip the sons of lesser mothers of their rank and titles and exile them from Kyoto, then the capital city. Many of these once-privileged men had a burning desire to claw their way back to importance. They did this by conquering territories in what is now northeastern Japan that had not been part of the empire before. This territory was populated by a fierce warrior people called the Emishi, who fought on horseback with curved swords designed for slashing. Eventually the conquered territories were a patchwork of hereditary fiefdoms owned by the families of the exiles, who collectively adopted a new name for themselves — samurai, those who serve.

To very oversimplify, the samurai came to power in the 12th century through military conquest and a lot of court intrigue, and from that time until the Meiji Restoration began in 1868, Japan was a military dictatorship ruled by the Shogun and the samurai class. In time, only those born into the samurai class were allowed even to carry weapons. There was still an emperor, mind you, but he was a figurehead. In that culture, loyalty and discipline were so valued that if you displeased whatever lordly samurai you answered to, usually you would not be executed but ordered to commit ritual suicide. And you would do it.

When European merchants and missionaries began showing up in the early 16th century, at first the Japanese tolerated them and even found them interesting. But it didn’t escape notice that other Asian countries were becoming European colonies. The merchants and missionaries came to be seen as the tip of the spear of European conquest, and in 1603 the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu ordered that Japan be almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. Trade with China continued through the port of Nagasaki, and an office of the Dutch East India Company in Nagasaki was allowed to remain in operation. So information about the wider world did get through the barrier. But most Japanese were not allowed to leave Japan, and as a rule foreigners were not allowed inland beyond Nagasaki.

So it was that when Admiral Perry arrived in Tokyo Bay in 1853 with a fleet of cutting-edge steam-powered warships, armed with guns that fired 150-pound shot, the Japanese suddenly realized the uncouth barbarians had gotten ahead of them in technology.  They realized also that their coastal cities could not be defended against a modern navy. Admiral Perry’s little visit touched off a series of events that toppled the last shogunate and restored power to the teenage Meiji Emperor in 1868.

The Meiji Emperor was a forward-thinking young man who decided Japan had to stop being a medieval backwater and join the modern world. Within a few short years the old fuedalist system of ancestral fiefdoms was demolished. The country was reorganized into prefectures with state-appointed governors. Industrialization and the introduction of new technologies and modern banking systems quickly followed. There was even an elected parliament and prime minister, although suffrage was limited and the Emperor still pretty much was in charge of the big stuff.

And the samurai class was abolished. Japan built a modern military based on European models, and young men of all backgrounds were consripted into it. But no more samurai.

Then Japan got to try out its new, modernized army, first against China and then against Russia. In the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), Japan fought Qing Dynasty China over influence in Joseon Dynasty Korea. China had not modernized its army and sued for peace. The defeat for China touched off events that led to the 1911 revolution that deposed the last emperor. The victory for Japan persuaded the Japanese they should be considered the great power of Asia.

Then there was the Russso-Japanese War, 1904-1905. There is quite a good article about this war and its effects on 20th century history at the Association of Asian Studies that I recommend.  Very briefly, both Russia and Japan had imperialist plans for Korea and Manchuria, so they had a war. And Russia did very badly. In fact, the war should have ended more quickly, but Tsar Nicholas II refused to believe his army would lose to Japan. Many years earlier he had visited Japan as Tsesarevich and barely survived an assasination attempt there. He considered the Japanese to be “a bunch of monkeys” ever after. How could Japan possibly defeat Imperial Russia? More to the point, how could a nonwhite nation defeat a white one? It soon became obvious that the Japanese had a superior military to Russia, but even so both sides were depleted when President Theodore Roosevelt offered to broker peace.  One problem with the peace deal is that TR denied the Japanese an indemnity it expected, which led to two days of rioting in Tokyo. Per the Assocation of Asian Studies:

After courting the Japanese, Roosevelt decided to support the tsar’s refusal to pay indemnities, a move that policymakers in Tokyo interpreted as signifying that the US had more than a passing interest in Asian affairs. Indeed, the argument can be made that the conduct of the United States during the treaty negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War not only contributed to the broader recognition of its growing role in the Pacific, but also started US and Japanese policymakers down the road that resulted in Pearl Harbor and culminated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But in the early 20th century there was another factor eating away at Japanese modernity, and that was the lost tradition of the samurai. Japan’s was a conservative culture that romanticized the old days of samurai military rule. The men who were the top officers of the military were the sons and grandsons of samurai, and these officers had not received the inheritance their forefathers had received. And so it was that Japan drifted down a rabbit hole of right-wing authoritarianism. By the 1930s, Japan had effectively become a military dictatorship once again. More than one historian has pointed out the parallels between the 1930s Japanese military top brass and the exiled imperial sons of earlier centuries who came back to power through military conquest of the Emishi.

And this brings me to Russia and Ukraine. I keep running into people who are still clnging to the notion that Putin has some legitimate grievance regarding NATO that explains the invasion. And I have also run into the notion that the invasion is really about oil deposits in the Black Sea that Russia wants. People will argue and argue this point.

But I think the truer reasons for Russia’s wars of aggression are more sociopsychological and sociocultural than geopolitical or economic. Truly, if you look closely, more often than not this explains most modern wars. Nations choose to engage in war for reasons that are mostly intangible, possibly even imaginary. That was certainly true for Germany in World War II. It was true of the U.S. in Vietnam and Afghanistan/Iraq. I could go on. And in the interest of world peace, this needs to be acknowledged. Maybe we’ll stop making the same mistake if this is better understood.

Please see Russia believed the West was weak and decadent. So it invaded. by Kristina Stoeckl and Dmitry Uzlaner at the Washington Post.

Russia presents itself as being at the forefront of the global culture wars, leading the resistance to liberal values. Russian anti-Westernism has religious implications: According to its own narrative, Russia is guarding true Christian faith, as embodied in the Eastern Orthodox church, from Western attempts to distort it, whether through Marxism in the 20th century or liberalism in the 21st.

Ukraine plays an important role in this story. It is depicted as part of the “Russian world,” the cradle of Russian civilization, which for many centuries was centered not around Moscow but around Kyiv, capital of today’s Ukraine. Ukraine’s choice to orient itself toward the West and reconcile a Slavic Orthodox identity with liberal democratic values is thus dangerous to this Russian vision of itself.

I believe this. It’s not really about oil and it’s not really about NATO. It’s about how Russia understands itself (or, at least, how Putin understands it) in light of its history and national mythology.

The article goes on to say that mixed into the Russian vision of itself is a whole lot of Christian conservatism imported from the U.S. that also saw the West as hopelessly corrupt and failing.

This account of the West helped give birth to a new Russian triumphalism. Russian media filled with TV shows and “documentaries” on “Gayropa” and “Sodom.” These shows conjured up a caricature of weak “gayish” Western males and women who lost their femininity by competing with men in spheres where they could achieve nothing serious.

Russian media frequently stressed the oddity that many Western democracies nominated women as defense ministers, as if that was the ultimate proof that the West has lost its ability to defend itself. In this collective image of a weak West, Russia depicted itself (to the inside and outside) as the country of strength, the bulwark of traditional families: with strong men, fertile women and children properly guarded against subversive homosexual propaganda.

Sounds like Florida. And, frankly, I’m sure Trump as president fed into Putin’s fantasies of the weak West. But I am done with people who keep whining that this war is somehow NATO’s fault.

Political Theater at the Border

I hadn’t heard about the new stunt Greg Abbott was pulling on the southern border until yesterday. Wow, what a maroon.

In case you hadn’t heard yet — Abbott has ordered that all commercial trucks crossing the border into Texas have to be inspected by Texas authorities to be sure they aren’t carrying drugs or undocumented people. Aren’t the trucks already being inspected by federal Customs and Border Protection people? Why yes, they are! And after they get the federal inspection trucks must go through another inspection by the state of Texas. According to the El Paso Times, this is causing delays of ten hours to two days at some checkpoints.

I’m seeing no indication that the Texas inspections have caught anything the feds missed.

So trucks full of avocados and auto parts are unable to get through, and this is likely to result in food shortages and drive up prices. Thanks loads, governor. Josh Marshall wrote,

The chaos has been so immediate and extreme that Abbott has garnered substantial pushback even from state Republicans. State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Tuesday attacked Abbott’s new policy as “political theater” and “economy killing action.” “Your inspection protocol is not stopping illegal immigration. It is stopping food from getting to grocery store shelves and in many cases causing food to rot in trucks — many of which are owned by Texas and other American companies. … The people of Texas deserve better!”

I question what the people of Texas “deserve,” since collectively they hava managed to be mostly a thorn in all our sides for some time, but let’s go on … the other little stunt Abbott is pulling is to send busloads of migrants seeking asylum to Washington, DC, to be unloaded in front of the Fox News station there. The migrants have all been processed by CBP and are free to travel. Apparently righties think it’s wonderfully fun and clever to dump the “illegals” so near the Capitol building. Paul Waldman points out that this is not causing any problems in DC, and no one there seems to care. Several of the migrants were happy to get a free ride to Washington.

Republicans and Violent Crime

Yesterday when news of the Brooklyn subway shooting spread through the Web, righties were practically gleeful blaming “defund the police” Democrats for violent crime in big cities.

But here’s the thing — homicide rates are actually higher in places Republicans are in charge. Behold:

The homicide rate in New York City was 5.5 killings per 100,000 people last year, according to several sources. That’s an increase from what it was in recent years, but way lower than what it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

Jonathan Capehart:

The report further points out that the homicide rate averaged across all states that went for Trump was 40 percent higher in 2020 than the homicide rate in all states Joe Biden won. And six out of the 10 states with the greatest increase in homicide rates over 2019 levels voted for Trump, including McConnell’s Kentucky — which saw a 58 percent spike.

I haven’t seen any analyses of why this is true, but I postulate a correlation between rates of gun ownership and homicide. Also, the story about murder rates tends to get buried under the number of murders, which of course will be higher in big cities than in small cities and rural areas.

Those are points I made in old posts about Chicago, a place beloved among righties for allegedly being the murder capital of America. See The Truth About Chicago (2017) and Kill the Chicago Myth (2018). Rates of gun violence in Chicago are too high, but are way lower than several other cities.

And you know who is Number One right now? St. Louis. According to this source, the current rate of “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter” in St. Louis is 66.07 per 100,000 residents. Chicago is 24.13. New York City? 3.39.

It’s true that St. Louis has a Democratic mayor, but Missouri has among the most lenient gun laws in the nation. Truly, I can’t imagine what else the legislature could do to make carrying any damnfool firearm you want any easier. (Well, there was the right-to-murder law, but it died in committee, I understand.) And it seems to me that every time the legislature passes more “pro gun” legislation, the murder rate goes up. Which state (not counting the District of Columbia) is worst for gun carriers, according to gun activists? New York.

Last year St. Louis city and county sued the state over the nutty “Second Amendment Preservation Act” that nullfies any federal law that the right-wing wackjobs in the state legislature decide violates the 2nd Amendment. The U.S. Justice Department also sued. There’s been no resolution yet.

Righties also were quick to blame “defund the police” on rising violent crime, kind of ignoring that there’s been little actual defunding. In fact, several of the “top ten” homicide cities had recently increased police funding. There appears to be no correlation between decreases or increases in police funding and rising crime rates.

(I see television ads for political campaigns in Illinois, and a mess of Republicans are running to replace the Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker. I like J.B. He’s sensible and has done a pretty good job of cleaning up the messes left by the last governor, a Republican. But all the people running against him are “tough on crime” types. They all brag about how conservative they are and how much they love cops. One wants us to know he loves Jesus, too. Nothing about schools or health care or fixing infrastructure. Let’s hope J.B. gets another term.)