U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta today sentenced the leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers organization, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, to 18 years in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release. In November a jury found Rhodes guilty of seditious conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, and tampering with documents and proceedings, for his role in organizing people to go to Washington in January 2021 and try to stop the counting of the electoral votes that would make Joe Biden president.
Rhodes told the court that his only crime was standing against those who are “destroying our country.” He says he believes he is a “political prisoner” and that he hopes Trump will win the presidency in 2024. “You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes,” Judge Mehta said. “You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country and to the republic and to the very fabric of this democracy.”
And yet, former president Trump has said he would not only pardon the January 6 offenders, but would apologize to them for their treatment by the government. Today, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who yesterday announced he is running for president, said he, too, would consider pardoning them, promising to be “aggressive in issuing pardons.”
Rhodes struck at our elections. Today in the Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency decision, the Supreme Court struck at the government regulations that underpin modern America.
Michael and Chantell Sackett bought land near Priest Lake, Idaho, and backfilled the wetlands on the property to build a home. The EPA found they had violated the Clean Water Act, which prohibits putting pollutants into “the waters of the United States.” Officials told them to restore the site or face penalties of more than $40,000 a day. By a vote of 5–4, the Supreme Court found that “waters” refers only to “‘streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes’ and to adjacent wetlands that are ‘indistinguishable’ from those bodies of water due to a continuous surface connection.”
This decision will remove federal protection from half of the currently protected wetlands in the U.S, an area larger than California. Homeowners, farmers, and developers will have far greater latitude to intrude on wetlands than they did previously, and that intrusion has already wrought damage as wetlands act like a sponge to absorb huge amounts of water during hurricanes. From 1992 to 2010, Houston, for example, lost more than 70% of its wetlands to development, leaving it especially vulnerable to Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 hurricane that in 2017 left 107 people dead and caused $125 billion in damage.
The decision said that the EPA had overreached in its protection of wetlands as part of the Clean Water Act, and that Congress must “enact exceedingly clear language” on any rules that affect private property. This court seems eager to gut federal regulation, suggesting that Congress cannot delegate regulatory rulemaking to the executive branch. As investigative journalist Dave Troy put it, “If [the] EPA can’t enforce its rules, what federal agency can?”
Justice Elena Kagan warned that by destroying the authority of the EPA, both now and in the West Virginia v. EPA decision last June that restricted the agency's ability to regulate emissions from power plants, the court had appointed itself “as the national decision maker on environmental policy.”
The Clean Water Act passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in 1972, during the administration of Republican president Richard M. Nixon. Nixon backed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 after a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, over ten days in January–February 1969 poured between 80,000 and 100,000 barrels of oil into the Pacific, fouling 35 miles of California beaches and killing seabirds, dolphins, sea lions, and elephant seals, and then, four months later, in June 1969, the chemical contaminants that had been dumped into Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. In February 1970, Nixon told Congress “[W]e…have too casually and too long abused our natural environment. The time has come when we can wait no longer to repair the damage already done, and to establish new criteria to guide us in the future.”
Nixon called for a 37-point program with 23 legislative proposals and 14 new administrative measures to control water and air pollution, manage solid waste, protect parklands and public recreation, and organize for action. At Nixon’s urging, Congress created the EPA in 1970, and two years later, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, establishing protections for water quality and regulating pollutant discharges into waters of the United States.
House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted that “[t]oday’s Supreme Court ruling is a win for farmers, businesses, and Americans across the nation by rejecting, yet again, the Biden administration’s costly and burdensome regulatory overreach.” But it sure looks like the story is not about Biden, but rather is about an extremist SCOTUS overturning 50 years of law that gave us clean water because it is determined to slash federal authority to regulate business.
McCarthy is trying to manage his conference while members of the far-right Freedom Caucus strike at our economy. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated today that defaulting on the national debt is not an option. “The President has said that, the Speaker has said that, and we want the American people to understand that as well…. What is up for debate, though, is the budget,” she said. “And that’s what these discussions are about: two very different fiscal visions for our country and our economy.”
Biden’s proposed budget invests in ordinary Americans and over 10 years is projected to reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion by “asking the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share and by slashing wasteful spending on special interests.” In contrast, “House Republicans…want to slash programs millions of hardworking Americans count on, while also protecting tax breaks skewed to the wealthy and corporations that will add $3.5 trillion to the debt. That’s where these negotiations began,” she said.
Finally, there is news today about the man that Rhodes is going to prison for, concerning his strike at our national security. Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Spencer S. Hsu, and Perry Stein of the Washington Post reported that on June 2, 2022, the day one of Trump’s lawyers contacted the Justice Department to say that officials were welcome to come to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the classified documents the department had subpoenaed, two of Trump’s employees moved boxes of papers. The next day, when FBI agents arrived, Trump’s lawyers gave them 38 documents, said they had conducted a “diligent search,” and claimed that all the relevant documents had been turned over. Yet, when FBI agents conducted a search two months later, they found more than 100 additional classified documents.
The timing of the moved boxes suggests that Trump was deliberately hiding certain documents. The Washington Post article also says that more than one witness has told prosecutors that Trump sometimes kept classified documents out in the open and showed them to people.
Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement: “This is nothing more than a targeted, politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump that is concocted to meddle in an election and prevent the American people from returning him to the White House.”
How DeSantis Destroyed Florida (Is the US Next?), NCAA Travel Warning, Texas Replaces School Counselors with Chaplains, GOP to Curb Student Voters, Target Attacked for Pride Month, Tina Turner Sings
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
DeSantis’ Florida: A Cautionary Tale of the Zombie Apocalypse
Ron DeSantis was born to play the movie role of the cigar-chomping hawkish general who wants to bomb our enemies “Back to the Stone Age!” That’s what he’s done in Florida. He’s legislatively bombed them back into the Stone Age. The once glorious blaze that was Florida is now a pit of dying embers Floridians huddle around while the dark closes in on them.
Florida is now like an annoying itch under your sleeve that you keep scratching, until you finally push up the sleeve and see the entire arm is a festering, oozing, gangrenous mess that immediately needs to be hacked off to save the rest of the body. Everything that DeSantis and his conservative cronies have imposed on Florida echoes what Maoist China did, Fascist Italy did, Stalinist Russia did, and, yes, cliche of cliches, Nazi Germany did.
They started by finding marginalized groups to demonize to unite people around a common enemy: Jews, gays, Catholics, or whatever group they could rally the desperate mob to hate. Then they launched overwhelming campaigns of disinformation that ensured the people didn’t know what actually was happening in the world, only what they wanted them to know. At the same time, they would re-engineer education so children would be prompted to embrace feverish, unquestioning patriotism while censoring what kids learned in order to promote an idealized country that never made mistakes and only had the best interests of all people in their hearts. Facts, they declared, were for nerds and elitists.
Why what’s happening in Florida is crucial for the rest of the country
DeSantis has announced, with Elon Musk at his side, that he’s running for president. Is he implying that Musk will be his major donor or even running mate? Or simply that he embraces Musk’s philosophy that the business of America is Business? Musk is the wealthiest man in the world, but also has used Twitter to undermine legitimate journalism, promote hate groups, silence political dissent in fascist countries, and spread disinformation that, when proven wrong, he simply erases from existence without comment. Two peas in a gilded pod.
The jump-scare in this horror movie is that DeSantis has a book—The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival—that he touts as his model for the rest of America. This blueprint has proven to be a disastrous failure for Florida, not so much a “revival” (a word crafted to appeal to his evangelical base) than a need for resuscitation. Worse, even though this horror movie is losing money for Florida (in the red?), other states have been emboldened by his success at bullying the state’s legislature into fawning submission to pass similar laws that subjugate women, endorse racist voting restrictions, and hobble education like Kathy Bates swinging a mallet in Misery. Every time Florida passes a law, an angel loses its wings.
DeSantis' presidential promise: as Florida goes, so goes the country. If that’s true, here’s a peek at the frightening future of the United States. The lesson to Floridians is summed up in the movie Getting Straight when, in the midst of a violent campus protest, Elliott Gould tells the bewildered university president, “Let go! Stop trying to hold back the hands of the clock! It'll tear your arms out!”
SUMMARY: Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate, called a Florida school’s decision to restrict access to four books, including one containing her famous poem “The Hill We Climb,” a violation of its students’ “free thought and free speech.”
…The books remain accessible to middle school students at the school, according to the newspaper.
A review by the school materials review committee was initiated after a single parent objected to five titles, complaining that they contained “indirect hate messages.”
MY TAKE: Book banning, especially for children, is justified by parents as preventing indoctrination. The reality, as they very well know, is that book banning is actually indoctrination by omission. By erasing other cultural or ethnic voices, especially dissenting voices, they create in their children a distorted view of the world.
Book ban attempts reached a record high in 2022. Right now, I just want to focus on this one incident because it encapsulates the fractured ideology and disturbing process. First, let’s start with the statement from a spokesperson for Miami-Dade County Public Schools objecting “to the idea that any of the works had been banned or removed, saying they remained available to older students ‘in the middle school section of the media center.’” Preventing certain students from obtaining the book is a ban. If you ban me from eating in your restaurant, you can claim you haven’t banned me from eating, just in your place. Still a ban. (For librarians, they don’t seem to understand language.)
Second, let’s look at the process. One parent objected to the book and so it’s gone. This same parent spent March objecting to a lot of books, filing complaints against The ABCs of Black History, Cuban Kids, Countries in the News Cuba, and Love to Langston (a book of poems about beloved Black poet Langston Hughes).
Third, let’s look more closely at her specific objections of “indirect hate messages,” “cause confusion,” and “indoctrinate students.” Below are the pages she cited.
This is like those old Highlights Magazine picture puzzles where you had to find the tennis racquet hidden in the drawing of the zoo. Are we supposed to take seriously her charge that elementary kids will be indoctrinated by those nine lines? (I might go along with “cause confusion,” because you could put any poem in front of an elementary student, and they will probably be confused.) Indoctrination to this parent obviously means saying anything other than what she believes or saying anything she doesn’t understand.
The most revealing line in the complaint (see above) is where the form asks: “Are you aware of professional reviews on this material?” Her response: “I don’t need it.” Her arrogant statement clarifies that her opinions are not based on any kind of knowledge or critical thinking, just her gut reaction (i.e., her indoctrination). And that’s how she wants her child to be. It’s like having a chronic disease that is passed on to the child, except now they can cure it with medicine. But the parent says, “Nope. The disease was good enough for me and it will be good enough for my kid.”
Finally, let’s zoom in on this one parent who is able to remove books for all other students. An investigation into the parent, Daily Salinas, has shown her allegiance with far-right groups including the Proud Boys and QAnon (“Tweets Link Florida Parent At Center Of School Book Ban To White Supremacists, Far-Right Extremists”). This is part of a minority-rule campaign in which a handful of tantrum-throwing trolls control what our kids learn. According to a Washington Post investigation, the majority of book challenges across the country were filed by only eleven people (“Objection to sexual, LGBTQ content propels spike in book challenges”). Yes, eleven people control access to our what our children read!
This is the kind of clueless, fringe person influencing education in Florida with DeSantis’ blessing. And Floridians are letting her.
SUMMARY: Numerous police officers lured to new jobs in Florida with cash from Governor Ron DeSantis’s flagship law enforcement relocation program have histories of excessive violence or have been arrested for crimes including kidnapping and murder since signing up, a study of state documents has found.
…However, among the almost 600 officers who moved to Florida and received the bonus – or were recruited in state – are a sizable number who either arrived with a range of complaints against them, or have since accrued criminal charges, the online media outlet Daily Dot has discovered.
MY TAKE: This “recruitment” program reminds me of those old Westerns where the rich rancher hires a bunch of gunmen so he can force the other ranchers to sell to him. The article details the multiple charges of abuse and brutality against many of the newly hired officers, which makes them seem more like a goon squad than police dedicated to serving the community.
Why would DeSantis deliberately hire so many officers who were clearly unqualified for the job? They put Floridian lives in jeopardy as well as dock taxpayer money from inevitable lawsuits. Florida already pays millions annually as the result of excessive use of force.
In the meantime, DeSantis has pushed through laws to restrict teacher unions and public sector unions (“DeSantis signs bill restricting teacher, public sector unions”)—except for the police unions. They remain untouched.
DeSantis is proud of the money spent to hire these disgraced cops, but has nothing to say about the dire state of teacher vacancies in Florida, which currently is about 5,300, as teachers flee the state’s horrific education policies. The total number of advertised mid-year teacher vacancies has jumped 255% over the past five years.
The message: teachers are expendable, but the police force gets whatever it wants.
SUMMARY: In a speech to Christian media in Orlando, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, envisaged the creation of a “7-2 conservative majority that would last a quarter-century” on the US supreme court should he be elected president next year.
MY TAKE: Let me catch my breath. He wants to control all three branches of the federal government so no one and nothing can stop him from enacting his agenda to marginalize women, Blacks, Latinx, LGBTQ+, immigrants, Muslims, and young people. Hey, history buffs, sound familiar?
Predictably, he makes no comment on the appearance of corruption currently in the news with conservative Justice Clarence Thomas and his history of receiving expensive “gifts”/bribes. Instead, he said, “you can’t do better than” Thomas.
SUMMARY: Gov. Ron DeSantis made Florida the state where woke goes to die. It’s not looking great for some businesses, either.
The Republican governor’s high-profile fight with Walt Disney Co. is just one of several DeSantis has picked with major corporations — some before even he took office. Now this latest gambit is costing Florida some 2,000 jobs after the global entertainment giant said Thursday it would scrap a $1 billion development plan in Florida.
MY TAKE: The article details DeSantis’ beef with other Florida-based businesses, including Norwegian Cruise Line, U.S. Sugar, and tech companies. His battle with Norwegian Cruise Line goes back to 2021 and their vaccination passport requirements. The line wanted to be sure their passengers were vaccinated because cruise ships already faced issues of disease breakouts without the complication of COVID. But DeSantis had an anti-vax/anti-mask political agenda that supplanted science. During the pandemic, Norwegian’s CEO Frank Del Rio said, “It’s beyond bizarre. It’s shameful. I mean, come on, give it up. This is a pandemic we are talking about, people are dying every day, Florida now is the epicenter of the epicenter. What does it take for common sense to rule?”
DeSantis’ battle with tech companies like Google was about a Florida law he’d signed that banned social media companies from censoring political candidates. (He sees no irony or contradiction in his policies to censor books and teachers from K through university level.) What exactly were the tech companies censoring? Hate speech that promoted discrimination and violence against marginalized groups. What DeSantis is censoring with his educational policies: facts, knowledge, history, and marginalized voices.
NAACP issues travel advisory for Florida, says state "has become hostile to Black Americans" (CBS News)
SUMMARY: The NAACP issued a formal travel advisory for Florida on Saturday in response to what the organization described as Gov. Ron DeSantis' "aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools."
The civil rights organization is the latest to caution travelers against visiting Florida; the League of United Latin American Citizens and LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida previously issued travel advisories.
"Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon," NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson said.
MY TAKE: I put this news item at the end of the Florida piece because, after reading the above articles, there can be little doubt as to why the NAACP had to take this extraordinary action. Under DeSantis, Florida is hiring thug cops, shredding education, and trying to erase Black history while suppressing Black voting, damaging economic opportunities, and encouraging hatred for marginalized groups that inevitably leads to violence.
The mood, the tone, and the feel of Florida after all this restrictive legislation has reverted to the old Jim Crow days of White entitlement. The segregated drinking fountains might be gone, but DeSantis has created a Florida that openly and proudly shuns inclusivity and diversity. The attack dogs and firehoses have been replaced by laws, but the intent behind them are still the same: hatred for others.
Kareem’s Video Break
My favorite part of this video is at the end when, after that long, intense slide, they gather tightly around their mother.
“Are you not entertained?” (You know what movie that quote is from.) If you want to keep being entertained, you know what to do next.
Texas lawmakers approve bill to allow school districts to replace counselors with chaplains (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: The Texas House of Representatives Wednesday gave final approval to a bill to allow uncertified chaplains in public schools, including to replace professional counselors, the last step before the measure is signed into law.
…A half-dozen Democratic lawmakers rose to ask [the bill’s sponsor Rep. Cole] Hefner to amend the bill, saying it didn’t provide protection for a diversity of religions, among other things.
Hefner and the majority rejected almost all amendments, including one requiring parental consent and another requiring chaplains to serve students of all faiths and not proselytize.
MY TAKE: Hefner defended the bill saying, “We have to give schools all the tools; with all we’re experiencing, with mental health problems, other crises, this is just another tool.” If that was true, there would be no reason to reject the amendments to protect religions other than Christianity, or one requiring parental consent, or ensuring the chaplains don’t proselytize. This entire bill rejects the “parental rights” justification that the GOP uses in other conservative onslaughts, including book banning.
Texans, if you want Republican representatives, then that’s what you should have. But surely you can find men and women with more intelligence and integrity to elect than these grifters who don’t seem to love the U.S. Constitution. If these legislators had studied in school, they’d know that Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin would be appalled at this bill.
Republican-controlled states target college students’ voting power ahead of high-stakes 2024 elections (CNN)
SUMMARY: Republican-controlled legislatures around the country have moved to erect new barriers to voting for high school and college students in what state lawmakers describe as an effort to clamp down on potential voter fraud. Critics call it a blatant attempt to suppress the youth vote as young people increasingly bolster Democratic candidates and liberal causes at the ballot box.
As turnout among young voters grows, new proposals that change photo ID requirements or impose other limits have emerged.
…The efforts to clamp down on student IDs and campus voting come against a backdrop of gains for Democrats among this demographic group. Exit polls analyzed by the Brookings Institution found that people ages 18 to 29 – especially young women – made a pronounced shift toward Democrats in last year’s midterm elections, helping to blunt an expected “red wave” for Republicans.
MY TAKE: This “win at all costs” mentality goes against everything the country stands for. Yet, Republicans embrace it without shame. It’s like a high school sports team sabotaging their opponent’s bus before a game so they can win by forfeit. It disgusts me that this is the tactic they have taken because their actual policies don’t attract enough voters (“Is the Surge to the Left Among Young Voters a Trump Blip or the Real Deal?”).
They protest that they are making these rules to curb voter fraud, even though there is no evidence of significant voter fraud. And, their campaign against “voter fraud” only targets people who lean toward voting Democratic. They have embraced their racism as a badge of honor. This demonstration of the lack of personal integrity is astounding. But will it be effective in undermining the democratic process? We’ll find out in 2024. Meanwhile, if there was ever a cause for college students to rally in public protest, this is it.
RELATED: “Texas Republicans target state’s largest city with voting restrictions” (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: Republican lawmakers in Texas are targeting Houston, the state’s largest city and Democratic stronghold, with a series of bills that would limit local authority to administer elections and give that power to the state.
…State senator Paul Bettencourt, a Republican who represents Houston and who authored both bills, said election problems in Harris county in 2022 prompted him to introduce the legislation. About 20 Harris county polling locations ran out of paper on election day in 2022 and some GOP officials said the ballot shortages targeted Republicans. But that claim has been debunked.
MY TAKE: I’m not sure which saddens me more: The Republican effort to destroy the democratic process or the lame excuse they give that wouldn’t fool anyone above middle school. If I were a Republican, I don’t think I could vote for someone who had such contempt for me as a thinking human being. The implied message is “Shut up and do what we tell you.”
SUMMARY: Target is removing some merchandise celebrating Pride Month from store shelves after facing a backlash against the products, including threats against the safety of its workers.
The retail giant said in a statement posted on its website Wednesday that it was committed to celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community but was withdrawing some items over threats that were "impacting our team members' sense of safety and well-being" on the job.
"Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior," the company said.
MY TAKE: At first, I was impressed by Target’s Pride Month displays. This is the kind of corporate support necessary to overcome entrenched prejudice. They had to know there would be a backlash from bigots—there always is. That’s what makes their original stance so significant. But, like Bud Light, they are retreating by choosing to remove items, though they won’t say which ones. Even a compromise is a win for discrimination and hate groups because it tells them that threats and violence are effective in scaring away fair-weather diversity supporters.
The message always has to be the same: We don’t compromise when it comes to supporting the rights of all people.
We close out with Memorial Day in America as President Biden delivered remarks at Arlington National Cemetery: