The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

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.