Archive for the ‘Discrimination’ Category

The Sunshine State Goes Darth Vader Dark

Saturday, April 23rd, 2022

In 1967, 55 years ago, the Walt Disney World Company proposed building a recreation-oriented development on 25,000 acres of property in Central Florida. The property sat in a remote area of Orange and Osceola Counties, so secluded that the nearest power and water lines were 10-15 miles away. Neither Orange nor Osceola County had the services or the resources needed to bring the project to life.

In that year, the Florida State legislature created a special taxing district for Disneycalled the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID)that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

Walt Disney World then moved ahead with its vision to turn 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land, into a global destination resort that today hosts millions of visitors every year.

The Special Taxing District designation gave the Disney company significant tax benefits amounting to tens of millions of dollars every year. However, those special tax benefits came with special upkeep responsibilities.

The new legislation said Walt Disney World would be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc.

Local taxpayers, meaning residents of Orange and Osceola County, would not have to pay for building or maintaining those services.

That all changed yesterday when Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation revoking Disney’s Special Taxing District designation. Now, Disney will be paying taxes it did not up to now have to pay. It will also be relieved of having to  provide the municipal maintenance services it has provided for the last 55 years for Orange and Osceola Counties, whose combined population is about 1.8 million. With Disney and its 80,000 Floridian employees no longer picking up the bill, the responsibility for all those municipal services, including Police and Fire, now falls to the counties. Property taxes (the way municipalities raise revenue in Florida) will  increase substantially.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is worried. “My primary concern is about any particular cost shifts that are mandated by the state to local governments,” he said in an interview with Orlando’s News 6. He should be worried.

Digging deeper, Sarah Rumpf of Mediaite notes repealing Disney’s status means that Orange and Osceola Counties, in addition to municipal services, are now responsible for Disney’s $2 billion bond debt—a 20% to 25% tax hike costing $2,200 to $2,800 per family of four. And if that’s not enough, since Disney’s RCID pays more and has better employee benefits than the Florida government, county workers taking on the jobs currently performed by Disney will likely have to take pay and benefit cuts. Yikes!

In another little twist, since both counties voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Machiavellian DeSantis has found a new and improved way to stick it to opponents.

The creation, passage, signing and enactment of this legislation happened in four days.

The question is Why? Why all this political steamrolling? The answer is because Governor DeSantis, who brooks less dissent than Caligula, is upset because Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek had the daring temerity to criticize what has come to be known as the Governor’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Chapek even went so far as to apologize to his 80,000 employees for not condemning the bill earlier and more strongly.

The bill, officially known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, would ban classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade; lessons on those topics in other grades would be prohibited unless they are “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate,” a vague threshold, indeed. And parents would be allowed to sue over violations. It doesn’t take the Oracle of Delphi to see where this is headed.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is DeSantis throwing seasoned red meat to his right-wing carnivores in Florida. It is DeSantis showing his many followers exactly what he thinks of the LGBTQ+ population. It is discriminatory and downright bigoted. But in Florida, it resonates, and the Governor’s lapdog legislature is happy to walk three paces behind carrying the bags.

In the immortal words of that great American salesman and inventor Ron Pompeo, “But wait. There’s more!”

In response to the 2020 census, the Florida legislature was required to draw up new legislative maps. It did, and the gerrymandered result gave Florida Republicans a guarantee of two additional seats in the US Congress. However, this was not good enough for Governor DeSantis, who created his own maps, which guaranteed four additional seats. In DeSantis’s version, Republicans would be expected to win 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts, a four seat increase from the 16 they hold now. The Republican-dominated Legislature, in happy subservience, approved the Governor’s maps, which he signed into law three days ago. In addition to giving the Republicans four more seats, the new maps eliminate two currently held by Black Democrats, one of whom is Val Demings, who is challenging Marco Rubio in next year’s senate election. In the game of Pool, we’d call this an Elegant Combination.

The map is expected to draw a near-immediate court challenge from Democratic-aligned groups that contend the proposal violates federal and state law because it dismantles and diminishes those two seats currently held by the Black Democrats. Recognizing Democrats would challenge in court the new maps, Republicans, planning ahead, even included in the final bill $1 million to pay for that fight. Trouble is, it’s not clear if that legal battle can be resolved before June, when candidates must qualify for the ballot.

If all this were real warfare instead of the political kind, we would say Governor DeSantis and his Republican army had just won a Battle of Annihilation.

 

 

 

 

 

Last Week Today: Mr. & Mrs. Thomas, Cory Booker’s Sermon, And The Loss Of A Titan

Saturday, March 26th, 2022

Last week was a crazy week in America. Trying to sum it up requires leaving out much. This column is a bit long, but its tragedy is there was not enough space to wax eloquent about the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Go Peacocks!

At home with the Thomases

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni have made more news in the last week than either of them has in the last ten years.

First, the Justice was admitted to hospital a week ago for an infection with flu-like symptoms (which were not Covid-19). In and of itself this was big news, especially with the backdrop of this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Stephen Breyer. Thomas was released on Friday, and is apparently healthy again, which makes many people happy and many others not so much.

Next, the Supreme Court released an 8 to1 decision on Thursday in which Justice Thomas spent 23 pages of a 60 page ruling in a dissent involving a condemned man in Texas who filed a motion to have his pastor present, “laying on hands” as he prayed over him in the death chamber. Twenty-three pages of “No.”

Finally, on Thursday night there was the bombshell story broken by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of Ginni Thomas’s involvement in the attempts to overthrow the results of the presidential election to keep Donald Trump in power.

Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had turned over a trove of emails and texts to the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection (Meadows has since stopped cooperating with the Committee). Among the texts were 29 back and forths between him  and Ginni Thomas — 21 sent by her, eight by him. Typical of the lot was this one from Thomas:

“Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

In her texts, Mrs. Thomas was disparaging of Vice President Mike Pence (“We are living through what feels like the end of America. Most of us are disgusted with the VP…”) and complimentary of Sidney Powell, the attorney who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, and who led the “stop the steal” legal team, along with with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and John Eastman, the lawyer who wrote the eight-point plan by which he asserted Republicans could keep Trump in power. Of Powell, Mrs. Thomas wrote she should be “the lead and the face” of the battle. Thomas wrote, “Sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.”

This story will develop further in the coming days; there is no way it couldn’t. It cannot prove anything but awkward for Justice Thomas, especially when one considers that the Supreme Court will, as it already has, inevitably hear cases stemming from the insurrection. Thus far, Thomas has refused to recuse himself from these cases. Continuing that refusal would be saying to the American public, as well as to his Supreme Court fellow Justices, that, while he may have had knowledge of his wife’s intimate involvement with the attempt to overturn the election and keep Trump in power, they did not discuss it in any husband and wife interplay and her profoundly strong views about the election never influenced his thoroughly impartial decisions.

Perhaps. Mrs. Thomas recently told the Free Beacon,“But we have our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too. Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”

Right. Perhaps.

Cory Booker’s paean

As any rational person knew it would, this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court had some predictable moments. We knew that certain Republican senators on the committee would take the national TV spotlight as an opportunity to demonstrate the fine art of political grandstanding. We were not disappointed. In fact, Senators Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn, Graham and Cotton exceeded our wildest expectations. The disrespect, utter poor taste, condescension, outright misogyny, and, let’s face it, naked racism on display by these five, while probably greeted with applause in their MAGA base, showed them for the woeful human beings they really are. That Judge Jackson took it all with grace and dignity, while responding cogently to their dog-whistle “questions” and sanctimonious, self-righteous speeches with exponentially more intelligence than they exhibited, was a credit to her beyond anything her cynical detractors could imagine.

But toward the end of the inquisition of the fifth female, and the first black female, ever nominated to the nation’s highest court, Senator Cory Booker’s turn came. He was fifth from the end of the ordeal. At that point, questions didn’t matter. Like an old time gospel preacher, he delivered a sermon on racial progress that reduced the hypocritical Torquemadas to burnt ash. Booker told Jackson:

“Your family and you speak to service, service, service. And I’m telling you right now, I’m not letting anybody in the Senate steal my joy. … I just look at you, and I start getting full of emotion.

“And you did not get there because of some left-wing agenda. You didn’t get here because of some ‘dark money’ groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done. By being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, in heels.’ And so I’m just sitting here saying nobody’s stealing my joy. Nobody is going to make me angry.”

I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional. I’m sorry, you’re a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian. You’re a mom. It’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom. I see my ancestors and yours. You faced insults here that were shocking to me. Nobody’s taking this away from me.  Republicans are gonna accuse you of this and that. But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? Because you’re here, and I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.

This was an emotional moment that broke through Judge Jackson’s week-long, iron-like wall of rectitude.

With the conservative bent of the current Supreme Court, it is a given that Judge Jackson’s presence won’t change much. But you never know. Over time, things can change.

The loss of Madeleine Albright

Speaking of formidable women, the nation has lost a great one.

As the first female U.S. Secretary of State and one of the few women in leadership on the global stage during the 1990s, Madeleine Albright — who died Wednesday at the age of 84 — stood firm against dictators and tyrants from the Balkans to Haiti to Rwanda.

Throughout her life, she demonstrated a steadfast belief that democracy would triumph over authoritarianism and that the United States had to lead for it to happen.

Born in Czechoslovakia just before World War II, she came to the United States at age 11 as a refugee from the Nazis and communism and graduated from Wellesley College in 1959. After her twins were born prematurely, she learned Russian staying in the hospital with them. She knew Russian would come in handy later in life. She earned a doctorate in government from Columbia University in 1976, and at the age of 39 reentered the workforce, having been shut out for many years prior due to the sin of being a woman. She always advised other working moms that “women have to work twice as hard.”

She joined the Clinton administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1993, and in 1997 she became the first woman ever to be Secretary of State.

She was an ardent defender of democracy; her time in Czechoslovakia gave her a first hand look at what the other side was like, the other side that is now doing all in its power to eliminate an entire country of 44 million people. Her final Book Fascism: A Warning is exactly that, a warning we had best heed.

Madeleine Albright will be missed — Greatly.

 

How Far We Must Go

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

In 1675, the first and one of the deadliest wars ever fought on what is now American soil began. Fifty-six years after the sailing of the Mayflower, the tenuous Native American-Puritan bonds, built with careful distrust, burst asunder with disastrous results for everyone.

In 1616, European traders had brought yellow fever to Wampanoag territory, which covered present day Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The epidemic wiped out two-thirds of the entire Wampanoag Nation (estimated at 45,000 at the time). So, when the first batch of Puritans landed in 1619, Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, was on high alert. He waited until 1621 to meet the new immigrants, and then forged a guarded relationship between his people and theirs. In late-March, 1621, he and Governor John Carver signed the Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty. In the Treaty the two peoples agreed to do no harm to each other, to come to each other’s aid if attacked by third parties and to have equal jurisdiction over offenders: if a Wampanoag broke the peace, he would be sent to Plymouth for punishment; if a colonist broke the law, he would be sent to the Wampanoags. In addition, the Wampanoag leaders agreed to tell neighboring indigenous nations about the treaty.

For fifty years, the entente, occasionally fraying, held. But as more and more English immigrants arrived with weapons native Americans had never seen, and as the new immigrants began asserting themselves more and more over the indigenous nations, it became a when, not an if, a war would break out.

When Massasoit died in 1665, his son Philip became Sachem. Philip had few of his father’s diplomatic skills, and his people were becoming more and more angry at the dictatorial actions taken by the white people. After three of his trusted lieutenants were executed by the pilgrims in a woeful miscarriage of justice, Philip had no choice but to go to war if he wished to remain in power. In 1675, he did just that.

King Philip’s war brought tragic consequences for all. As so often happens, the white settlers of Plymouth Colony grossly underestimated the tactical skill of the warring indigenous nations, but in the end European firepower won out. Before the war, historians estimate about 80,000 people lived in New England. Nine-thousand died during the fourteen months of King Philip’s War, more than 10% of the total population. Proportionately, that’s more than in both the Civil War and the Revolution. One-third of the towns in New England lay in ashes, farms were abandoned and the fields lay fallow. Philip was hunted down in Rhode Island’s Misery Swamp and killed. His body was quartered and pieces hung from trees. The man who killed him, John Alderman, sold his severed head to Plymouth Colony authorities for 30 shillings.

And so we come to war’s end in 1676, and Josiah Winslow, the governor of Plymouth Colony, had a problem. Namely, what to do with hundreds of native Americans—surviving leaders of King Philip’s War and their families.

Winslow decided to get rid of them by loading them all, including Philip’s wife and nine-year-old son, onto several ships bound for the Caribbean, one of which, ironically, named Seaflower.

As Nathaniel Philbrick writes in his masterful Mayflower (Viking Penguin, 2007):

In a certificate bearing his official seal, Winslow explained that these Native men, women and children had joined in an uprising against the colony and were guilty of “many notorious and execrable murders, killings and outrages.” As a consequence, these “heathen malefactors” had been condemned to “perpetual slavery.”

Thus, joining Rome and other ancient societies, our white ancestor enslaved a conquered people.

Yesterday, 345 years after the Seaflower sailed from Plymouth harbor, a jury of his peers, a diverse jury, convicted Derek Chauvin on all three counts of murder in the death of George Floyd. What struck me most, the image that cannot be unseen, is the smirk on Chauvin’s face as he kneeled the life out of a man who did not look like him. I imagine it to be the same look Governor Winslow had on his face as he signed the certificate condemning hundreds of indigenous people, who did not look like him, into perpetual slavery.

How far we’ve come. How much, much farther we must go.

 

If Not For The Water: Georgia’s Stick In The Eye Of Democracy

Monday, April 5th, 2021

Major League Baseball and Major League Corporations are turning on the state of Georgia. The baseball All-Star game, originally scheduled for Atlanta’s Truist Park in July, is picking up its bats, balls and gloves and heading somewhere else, depriving the stadium of more than 43,000 fans and all the money they bring with them.

This, of course, is due to the Georgia Election Integrity Act, a 98-page, nearly 2,500-line piece of legislation signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp a week ago Friday behind locked doors in the presence of nobody but six older white guys and a painting of Calloway Plantation. None of the more than 100 people the Calloways enslaved are pictured in the painting. In addition to MLB, the Coca Cola and Delta Airlines corporations, headquartered in Georgia, sharply criticized what they considered terrible voter suppression by the majority Republican legislature.

Coca Cola and Delta did not stand alone. The following major corporations have issued sharply condemnatory statements: Merck, Porsche’s North American operations, headquartered in Georgia, Georgia-based UPS, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft President Brad Smith, Bank of America Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, Home Depot, headquartered in Georgia, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, American Express, Facebook, and Viacom CBS.

Texas, a few states to the west of Georgia, appears ready to pass similar legislation, prompting American Airlines and Dell, both based there, to issue similar strongly worded rebukes before any legislation has been voted and enacted. Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he will sign the legislation when, not if, it reaches his desk. And Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, the powerful Senate leader, slamming the corporations’ criticism, said, “Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy.”

As of March 24, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states, according the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voting legislation around the country. Arizona, alone, has 23 in the hopper.

It seems that the irresistible force is about to meet the immovable object as corporate America issues a ringing indictment of what it considers perfidious attempts by red states to restrict voting rights. What caused this immediate and strong opposition? MLB traditionally takes a long time to decide anything, let alone a law about voting.

I submit it has everything to do with water.

More than half of the Georgia Election Integrity Act deals with absentee and early voting. Reading those parts is like trying to negotiate the Labyrinth without Theseus’s ball of twine. However, there is one, immediately understandable sentence found on page 73, a section of which reads:

No person shall…offer to give…any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector…within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.

Violation of this section is a crime, albeit a misdemeanor.

The state of Georgia holds primary elections during or near summer. Summer is hot in Georgia, and the state is the seventh most humid in the country. Voting lines can be long in Georgia, and will be longer now due to the new law decreasing voting places and limiting drop boxes to either one per county or one per 100,000 people, whichever is smaller. People standing in long lines in the summer heat will get thirsty. Perhaps they will not have brought water with them. The urge to give a drink of water to a thirsty person in a long line in the Georgia heat is something very human, very Christian. What is neither human nor Christian is having to do so by putting the drink on a 26 foot pole.

This is the one thing that got America’s immediate attention, one person in particular: the President of the United States, who, during his first press conference, called it “sick.” Nielson reports 32 million people watched him live.

Biden calling out the provisions dealing with absentee ballots or early voting would have left many saying, “Well that’s a matter of opinion. He’s a Democrat, so, of course, he’ll criticize a new law Republicans wrote.”

But there’s no “matter of opinion” about the water. It’s a Black and White thing (the whole law is, but this part is special). If Georgia’s Republican legislators had told the genius who came up with it, “Now, hold on, son, we can get what we want without this,” it would have been ever so much harder to get corporate America to go full out in opposition.

Republicans in Georgia, especially Governor Kemp, are not backing down. No, they’re doubling down. But they’ve now set something in motion that will be hard to stop. And former friends in high places are aligned against them. In the long run, the Georgia Election Integrity Act may prove to be the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party in Georgia — and beyond.