Archives for category: Evil

Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times describes the assault on librarians by rightwing groups and parents who want to ban books. Across the country, but especially in red states, librarians are vilified as “the arm of Satan” by those who want to control what books are on the library shelves. If you want to read a concise summary of book-banning, read my book The Language Police, published by Knopf.

He writes:

In her time as a Texas school librarian, Carolyn Foote watched the image of her profession veer from “shrinking violets behind spectacles” cataloging titles to “pedophiles and groomers” out to pollute the minds of the nation’s youth.

“Librarians came from a climate of being so appreciated to hearing this message that we’re reviled,” said Foote, co-founder of Freadom Fighters, an advocacy group for librarians that has nearly 15,000 Twitter followers. “It was an astonishing turn of events.” A lot of librarians are asking themselves whether they want to remain in the profession, she added. “At least five people I know have retired early.”

Once a comforting presence at story circle and book fairs, librarians have been condemned, bullied and drawn into battles over censorship as school and library boards face intensifying pressure from conservatives seeking to ban books exploring racial and LGBTQ themes. Those voices have grown stronger in red states since the pandemic, when parental groups opposed to mask mandates expanded their sights and became more involved in how and what their children were taught.

Recent polls suggest most Americans are not in favor of banning books. But concentrated pressure by politically connected parental groups, said Peter Bromberg, a board member at EveryLibrary, a nonprofit library advisory group, “has librarians facing a great deal of stress. There are signs on people’s lawns calling librarians pedophiles.” They face pressure from principals and administrators over book displays, and “neighbors talk about them being an arm of Satan.”

Books are displayed at the Patmos Library

The Patmos Library in Jamestown, Mich., which lost public funding after a campaign by conservatives, forcing it to rely on donations.

(Joshua Lott / Washington Post via Getty Images)

Some librarians are fighting back; others have lost or left their jobs. The culture wars over books come at a time when about 27% of public libraries have reduced staff because of budget cuts and other reasons, according to a 2021 national survey. Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozado, president of the American Library Assn., said librarians’ problems are compounded by attacks that are part of an effort “seeking to abolish diverse ideas and erode this country of freedom of expression. I see it as the dismantling of education.”

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A number of school board meetings in recent years have become explosive and emblematic of the country’s political animosities. Parents yell, boo, shake fists and hold up sexually graphic images in dramas that play out on social media. Similar scenes have erupted at public libraries, including at the Patmos Library in western Michigan, where at least two librarians have quit amid pressure and harassment from residents demanding the removal of LGBTQ books and young adult graphic novels.

(Joshua Lott / Washington Post via Getty Images)

At the library’s December board meeting, librarian Jean Reicher denounced critics a week after the building closed early over fears for the staff’s safety. She said that signs around town labeled her a pedophile and that she’d received abusive phone calls and had iPhones pointed at her. Her emotional retort came a month after a campaign led by conservatives succeeded in defunding the library, forcing it to rely on donations.

“We have been threatened. We have been cursed,” said Reicher. “How dare you people. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You have said I’ve sexualized your children. I’m grooming your children.”

She raised her hands. Her anger welled.

“I have six grandkids out there,” she said, ticking off the offenses aimed at her. “I moved to this town 2½ years ago, and I regret it every day for the last year. This has been horrible,” she continued. “I wasn’t raised this way. I believe in God. I’m a Catholic. I’m a Christian. I’m everything you are.”

School and library boards are encountering demands from conservative lawmakers and parental groups, such as Moms for Liberty and Mama Bears Rising, and in a few instances the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, to scour libraries of what they consider upsetting pornographic and LGBTQ depictions. Many conservatives criticize schools as overrun with progressive ideas that are confusing children about race and gender.

“By exposing our children to adult concepts such as gender identity we are asking them to carry a load that is much too heavy for them,” Kit Hart, a Moms for Liberty member, said in a video posted last year from a school board meeting in Carroll County, Md. “A 10-year-old should not be reduced to his sexuality.”

A video posted on the Moms for Liberty website shows another one of its members outlining her concerns at a public meeting in Mecklenburg, N.C.: “Parents beware of terms like social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion. Those inherently good things are being used to disguise a biased political agenda,” she said. “Our schools are becoming indoctrination camps and a breeding ground for hatred and division.”

Florida and other states have placed tougher restrictions on books that schools can stock. A Missouri law passed last year makes it a crime for a school to provide sexually explicit material to a student. After a discrimination complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a Texas school district after a superintendent directed librarians to remove LGBTQ-related books.

“We have been thrown to the forefront of the cultural wars whether we want to be there or not,” said Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian in Livingston Parish, La., who last year broke out in hives and fell into depression after she was threatened for speaking against censorship. “It’s not fun to be vilified in your small town or the country at large. It’s all related to their using political fear and outrage. And they’re using children to do it.”

Jones was skewered by conservative activists, including Citizens for a New Louisiana, after she warned at a library meeting that “hate and fear disguised as moral outrage have no place in Livingston Parish.” A picture of her appeared online with a red circle around her head — resembling a target — and she was called a pig and a supporter of teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds. Someone suggested she should be slapped.

Martha Hickson, a high school librarian in Annandale, N.J., endured similar stress and said she lost 12 pounds in one week after she was accused by a parent at a school board meeting of being a groomer by providing graphic novels and memoirs, such as “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, that could influence children toward “heinous acts.”

“What really stung was that my name was used in that context,” said Hickson, 63,who in 2020 received the American Assn. of School Librarians’ Intellectual Freedom Award. “It was devastating. I broke down and I couldn’t stop crying.” She couldn’t catch her breath, she said, and “couldn’t speak in full sentences. I cracked two teeth from grinding and was fitted with a night guard. I go to the pool now and swim three times a week. It washes the stress away.”

Jessica Brassington, head of the Texas-based Mama Bears Rising, which advocates for increased parental oversight in education, said her intent is not to rebuke librarians or teachers but to get stricter state guidelines on selecting school books in what she sees as a broader war against her Christian faith.

“We want to protect our children. We’ve seen the dark side of what can happen beyond the book. Suicide. Alienation,” said Brassington, whose organization has pressed for the removal of books in school districts and warned against children being indoctrinated by an “evil” sexual agenda. “We want to know what books are available to our children. … The parents are being bypassed.”

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Calls to ban certain books in schools have arisen for generations among liberal and conservative parents, educators and activist groups. Classics such as Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” have been pulled from reading lists. Books deemed to be obscene such as “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Tropic of Cancer” were censored for decades. In the 1980s, well-funded and organized groups like the Christian right Moral Majority condemned books on secular humanism.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed laws to restrict school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation.

(Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Those battles echo today and have accelerated as religious conservatives and right-leaning politicians, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have backed bills to limit school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. Of the 1,648 titles banned in schools across the country in the 2021-22 school year, according to a PEN America study, 41% had prominent LGBTQ characters or explicitly explored LGBTQ themes.

“It’s hard to compare this to anything other than the Red Scare in the 1950s,” said Foote, a retired high school librarian of 29 years who was named a Champion of Change by President Obama. “There’s nothing else remotely close to this.”

Open the link and read the rest of the article. It might be behind a paywall. I subscribe to the Los Angeles Times. It’s a terrific newspaper.

No freedom in Florida! The state where personal privacy goes to die! Soviet-style mind & body control! I’m guessing the purpose of this diktat is to check to make sure no trans women are competing in women’s sports. But there are worse things at stake her. Privacy. Freedom. An intrusive state, a government that counts your menstrual cycle. Gross!

#DictatorDeSantis

After especially awful massacres, the public expects Congress to take meaningful steps to limit access to guns. Sandy Hook. No action. Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS in Parkland, Florida. No action. The Pulse Nightclub. No action. The Las Vegas music festival massacre. No action. Uvalde. No action. The recent massacres in California? What do you think? Why no action? The Republicans block every attempt to enact meaningful restrictions.

CNN posted a summary of where America stands internationally a day before the killing of 11 people in Monterrey Oark, California.

CNN) – Monterey Park. Atlanta. Orlando. Las Vegas. Newtown. Parkland. San Bernardino. Uvalde.

Ubiquitous gun violence in the United States has left few places unscathed over the decades. Still, many Americans hold their right to bear arms, enshrined in the US Constitution, as sacrosanct. But critics of the Second Amendment say that right threatens another: The right to life.

I insert here that my understanding of the Second Amendment is that it pertains not to the right of every individual to “bear arms,” but to the maintenance and arming of a “well-regulated militia.”

For a time in the 1990s, the Supreme Court agreed, and let stand a decade-long ban on assault weapons.

The 2nd Amendment says:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The CNN article continues:

There are 120 guns for every 100 Americans, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey (SAS). No other nation has more civilian guns than people.

More guns than people!

Read the article.

Jan Resseger looks behind the daily news and ties together fast-moving events in the red states. The sudden proliferation of voucher programs is no accident, she writes, nor is it a response to public demands. It is a carefully crafted, well-funded strategy to defund public schools, to smash teachers’ unions, and to implement a rightwing ideology that does not benefit students or improve education.

She writes:

This week in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed an Education Savings Account, universal voucher program into law. And last week in Utah, the same kind of voucher plan took the first step toward adoption when it was passed by Utah’s House of Representatives.

The Des Moines Register reports on Iowa’s new vouchers. The program will “phase in over three years and eventually allow all Iowa families to use up to $7,598 a year in an ‘education savings account’ for private school tuition. If any money is left over after tuition and fees, families could use the funds for specific educational expenses, including textbooks, tutoring, standardized testing fees, online education programs and vocational and life skills training. The $7,598 per private school student is the same amount of funding the state provides to public school students and is expected to rise in future years… The bill allows the Iowa Department of Education to contract with a third party to administer the education savings accounts, but the state has not yet issued a request for proposals from companies seeking to manage the funds.”

It would appear that the Iowa Legislature tried to calm the fears of the public school community by promising that, “Public school districts would also receive an additional $1,205 in funding for students receiving education savings accounts who live within the public school district’s boundaries.” But despite that promise, a drop in overall public school funding is expected: “By the fourth year, the (Legislative Services) agency estimates public school districts will receive $49.8 million in new per-student funds for private school students within the public district’s boundaries. The agency also expects a net decrease of $46 million in public school funding as a result of more students attending private schools.”

It is hard to keep track of all the states that now have school vouchers or are considering voucher programs and to know which states have the latest flavor of vouchers—Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Most ESA programs, unlike Iowa’s, don’t even require that families use the vouchers at private schools. In most places, ESA’s can be used for educational programs, for educational tools and materials like books and computers, and for homeschooling. In some states families can use the money for so-called micro-schools in which families come together and hire a teacher to work with children in someone’s home.

Why is there so much so much legislative activity about expanding vouchers? Several factors are important to consider, and many of them were the subject of economist Gordon Lafer’s analysis in The One-Percent Solution. Lafer’s book focused on the public policy that flowed from state legislatures after the Tea Party wave election in 2010, but his observations are still on point as we begin 2023. Lafer enumerates all the reasons why far-right ideologues and big corporate moneyed interests seek to undermine and privatize public schools: “At first glance, it may seem odd that corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation for Independent Business, or Americans for Prosperity would care to get involved in an issue as far removed from commercial activity as school reform. In fact, they have each made this a top legislative priority… The campaign to transform public education brings together multiple strands of the agenda… The teachers’ union is the single biggest labor organization in most states—thus for both anti-union ideologues and Republican strategists, undermining teachers’ unions is of central importance. Education is one of the largest components of public budgets, and in many communities the school system is the single largest employer—thus the goals of cutting budgets, enabling new tax cuts for the wealthy, shrinking the government, and lowering wage and benefit standards in the public sector all coalesce around the school system… There are always firms that aim to profit from the privatization of public services, but the sums involved in K-12 education are an order of magnitude larger than any other service, and have generated an intensity of corporate legislative engagement unmatched by any other branch of government. Finally, the notion that one’s kids have a right to a decent education represents the most substantive right to which Americans believe we are entitled, simply by dint of residence… (F)or those interested in lowering citizens’ expectations of what we have a right to demand from government, there is no more central fight than around public education. In all these ways, then, school reform presents something like the perfect crystallization of the corporate legislative agenda.” (The One-Percent Solution, pp 128-129)

It is hard for public school advocates to mobilize nationally against the expansion of vouchers. Voucher battles are fought state by state because public education and the funding of public education is a state-by-state issue. Advocates are likely to focus on public education legislation in their own state and not to pay attention to what’s happening elsewhere. And citizens are not likely to pay much attention to what is happening in the legislature. Once again, Gordon Lafer identifies the problem: “(M)any of the factors that strengthen corporate political influence are magnified in the states. First, far fewer people pay attention to state government, implying wider latitude for well-funded organized interests… Apart from labor unions and a handful of progressive activists, the corporate agenda… encounters little public resistance at the state level because hardly anyone knows about or understands the issues… So, too, corporate lobbies’ financial advantage is magnified in the states. Citizens United marked a sea change in state as well as federal politics.” (The One Percent Solution, pp. 34-36)

Christopher Lubienski, a professor of education policy at Indiana University who has studied the impact of school privatization and the politics around privatizing public schools, recently published a reminder that school privatization is driven by the power of the corporate agenda. Expansion of vouchers has never been an expression of voters’ overall preference: “School choice is continuing to expand across the United states…. But these successes often come in spite of overwhelming voter opposition to school choice programs… According to the pro-voucher organization EdChoice.org, the U.S. has over 75 publicly funded private school choice programs, including vouchers, and education savings accounts, as well as another 45 charter school programs. But all of these programs have been implemented by legislators, not the electorate… In fact, voters have been allowed to weigh in on school choice programs only nine times since 2000, and they almost always reject them, often by overwhelming margins. Only twice did school choice programs pass through the ballot box. In 2012, Georgia voters empowered their legislature with the ability to create charter schools. That same year… Washington voters passed a charter school referendum.”

Who are the far-right advocacy groups and think tanks powerfully promoting Education Savings Account vouchers? They include the usual suspects: the American Legislative Exchange Council and a state- by-state group of think tanks that are ALEC’s partners in the State Policy Network, EdChoice, the Goldwater Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for Justice, which provides two model laws—“Education Savings Account Act: Publicly Funded,” and “Education Savings Account Act: Tax-Credit Funded“—so that state legislators can merely adapt a canned statute to their own state’s particular needs. SourceWatch reports corporate funding streams for these and other far-right think tanks that promote vouchers—funding from the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and investments from the Donor’s Capital Fund, a powerful investor of corporate dark money since the 2010, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United.

In the past two years, the campaign to undermine public schooling and promote the expansion of vouchers has developed a new strategy to convince parents that their children in public schools are being brainwashed by critical race theory and surrounded by discussion of gender and sexual orientation. In a new report published by the Network for Public Education this week, political scientist Maurice Cunningham traces the money behind what may appear to be a spontaneous emergence of parents’ groups—Parents Defending Education, Moms for Liberty, and No Left Turn in Education. Cunningham points to clues that these are not local grassroots groups of parents; their websites, for example, betray a big investment in communications. And while, for example, the founders of Parents Defending Education (PDE) claim to be a bunch of working moms, Cunningham explains: “PDE took in $3,178,272 in contributions and grants in 2021… Donor’s Trust, a dark money donor associated with the Koch network donated $20,250 to PDE in 2021. The Achelis & Bodman Foundation which funds voucher and charter school programs and targets public education, contributed $25,000. Searle Freedom Trust, another right-wing donor with ties to Donors Trust, contributed $250,000 in 2021. We don’t know all the names on the checks, but we do know that those checks had to be pretty large, that the attorneys and consultants sit at the hierarchy of right-wing operatives, and that the board members and staffers are connected to the highest levels of conservative donors including the Koch network.”

The same people who are promoting vouchers are working to scare parents with the huge, culture war campaign driven by identifiable funders and a mass of dark money supporting an education marketplace and undermining parents’ confidence in public schools. But as Christopher Lubienski, the scholar who has studied the effect of the privatization of public education reminds us, expanding vouchers has not improved the outcomes for our children: “(R)ecent research is repeatedly showing that… vouchers are not a good investment. Although publicly funded vouchers may be propping up some private schools that might otherwise go out of business, they are not really helping the people they purport to help. In fact… study after study shows that students using vouchers are falling behind where they would have been if they had remained in public schools. Thus, policymakers might think twice about defying voters on initiatives that actually cause harm to children.”

The political theorist Benjamin Barber warns that school choice does not really provide freedom for families: “We are seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but with respect to relevant outcomes the real power, and hence the real freedom, is in the determination of what is on the menu. The powerful are those who set the agenda, not those who choose from the alternatives it offers. We select menu items privately, but we can assure meaningful menu choices only through public decision-making.” (Consumed, p. 139)

Arnie Alpert is an activist in New Hampshire. In this post, he calls out the state GOP for attributing its racist “divisive concepts” law to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Its real author is Donald Trump, or more likely, Trump’s sidekick Stephen Miller. At the end of his article is a tape of Dr. king’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963. It has nothing in common with the GOP’s efforts to whitewash the curriculum of America’s schools. The GOP betrays Dr. King’s ideals.

When New Hampshire House Republican leaders quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. in their defense of the state’s “Divisive Concepts” or “Non-Discrimination” law last week, it wasn’t the first time King’s words were used to imply something quite different from what he intended.

All the law does, according to a statement from GOP Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, and Deputy Leader Jim Kofalt, R-Wilton, is prohibit “teaching children that some of them are inherently racist based on their skin color, sex, race, creed, etc. Is that not what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for when he said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?’”

To that I say, no, that’s not what he called for, not if one takes the time to review the entirety of the speech now known as “I Have a Dream.”

Since all sides to this controversy say they want history portrayed accurately, a review is in order, starting with the New Hampshire law in question.  The statute began its life in 2021 as HB 544, sponsored by Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, and co-sponsored by Rep. Osborne, aiming to bar teachers, other public officials, and state contractors from the “the dissemination of certain divisive concepts related to sex and race in state contracts, grants, and training programs.”

The proposal was not of local origin.  According to The First Amendment Encyclopedia, “’Divisive concepts’ legislation emerged in multiple states beginning in 2021, largely fueled by conservative legislatures seeking to limit topics that can be explored in public school classrooms. The laws have been driven in large part by opposition to critical race theory, an academic theory that says racism in America has largely been perpetuated by the nation’s institutions.”  Those proposals followed an Executive Order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” issued by President Donald Trump the previous year, which blocked federal agencies from providing diversity, equity, and inclusion training “rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors.”

In its statement of purpose, the order cited the same brief extract from Dr. King’s 1963 speech, talked about the “significant progress” made in the intervening 57 years, and went on to criticize diversity training conducted in a variety of federal agencies.  It listed nine “divisive concepts” which would be prohibited, among them were that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” and that anyone “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” 

Trump’s order was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge and later rescinded by President Joseph Biden, but it’s intent and language were picked up by legislators in several states, including New Hampshire. 

The Trump order’s list of “divisive concepts” was repeated almost word-for-word in Rep. Ammon’s bill, which received considerable attention from supporters, several of whom tried to recruit Dr. King among their ranks.  For example, a letter-to-the-editor published both in the NH Union Leader and Concord Monitor, stated, “HB 544 eliminates the use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the discussion of issues of race and the other ‘isms’ we are addressing today.”  It went on, “America has been moving in that direction of Dr. King’s idea for the last 50 years. We want to teach our children and share with our employees that we want to act in the way Dr. King has prescribed, not the CRT idea of systemic racism.”  Speakers made similar comments at a State House rally that spring, where one participant reportedly carried a sign reading, “Teach MLK, Not CRT.” 

But after a public hearing and extensive work in committee, HB 544 was tabled on the House floor.

The proposal was not dead, however.  Instead, it sprang back to life as a provision in the House version of the state budget.  Now titled, “Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education” and with a somewhat reduced menu of concepts to be prohibited in schools and other public workplaces, the Finance Committee inserted it into HB 2, the budget trailer bill.  Under this version, “any person” who believed they had been aggrieved by violation of the law could pursue legal remedies. 

When Senate GOP leaders heard that Governor Sununu was not happy about the “Freedom from Discrimination” language, Senator Jeb Bradley re-re-wrote it, turning it into what is now the non-discrimination statute.  Once again the proposal’s scope was reduced, for example limiting it only to conduct of teachers.  But it did contain a provision that “any person claiming to be aggrieved by a violation of this section, including the attorney general, may initiate a civil action against a school or school district in superior court for legal or equitable relief, or with the New Hampshire commission for human rights.” 

It’s worth noting that other than in the original public hearing on HB 544, at no time did the House or Senate provide a meaningful opportunity for public comment on the proposal, whose final details were worked out in the rapid deliberations of a House-Senate conference committee.  

Following adoption of the budget, with the Bradley version intact, the NH Department of Education added a link to its website encouraging parents to report teachers they believe are disseminating ideas banned under the “Non-Discrimination” law.  A right-wing group promised $500 to the first family that files a successful complaint.

Given what we might call the “original intent” of its sponsors, it’s no surprise that some teachers are fearful that “any member” of the public might put their jobs at risk if they teach about the ways in which African Americans and other people of color have faced systematic discrimination. 

It was the clamor for laws that would end systematic discrimination that brought a few hundred thousand people to Washington DC on Aug. 23, 1963, for the March for Jobs and Freedom.  Inspired by A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the rally marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in the states of the Confederacy.  It took place shortly after demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama brought inescapable attention to the brutality needed to maintain racial segregation.  By emphasizing jobs and freedom, the march sought to advance an agenda for job training and an end to workplace discrimination as well as voting rights and a civil rights bill that would end segregation in schools and public accommodations.  Dr. King was one of several major speakers.  

A century after emancipation, Dr. King said, “the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”  Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Dr. King said, the founders of the nation had issued “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” 

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” he charged, saying that instead of following through on a promise, America had issued a bad check.  “We’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice,” Dr. King said. 

Seeking to rescue the nation from “the quicksands of racial injustice,” including “the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,” Dr. King said, “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.  The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” 

Looking back, there is no doubt Dr. King was addressing the collective and systematic discrimination experienced by African Americans, a view fully consistent with what HB 544 backers decried as critical race theory. 

Yes, progress has been made since 1963. But the realities of police brutality, extreme inequality, and denial of voting rights which Dr. King condemned are still with us. Dr. King can still help us find the way forward if we take the time to study what he actually meant.

One of the regular readers of the blog alerted me to the fact that there were several comments today (January 5) that contained vulgarity and profanity that are not allowed on this blog.

These disgusting comments were written in response to a post I wrote on June 1 called “I Am Woke, You Should Be Too,” in which I asserted that I care about justice, equality, freedom, and other fundamental ideals of our society. I took issue with those who would censor the views of those who disagree with them. I specifically criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for passing laws to silence those who don’t agree with his censorious views.

I wrote:

One of the hot-button words that has been appropriated by rightwing politicians is “woke.” They are trying to turn it into a shameful word. I looked up the definition of WOKE. It means being aware of injustice and inequality, specifically when referring to racism. I strive to be aware of injustice and inequality and racial discrimination and to do whatever I can to change things for the better. Shouldn’t we all do that?

My acronym for WOKE is “Wide Open to Knowledge and Enlightenment.”

What would you say about someone who is not WOKE? They are “asleep,” “unconscious,” “indifferent.” They are “Mind Closed, Mouth Open.”

Yes, I am WOKE. I want Dr. King’s dream someday to be true. It is not true now.

Apparently, this post was reprinted on a rightwing site. Consequently, I have received quite a few hostile, vicious, profane comments, especially today.

I regret that several such profane comments got past me today. I was busy and did not carefully screen every comment.

I apologize for allowing profanity on this site.

I will try to block them as soon as possible.

Yes, I am woke. I am proud to be woke. I hope someday everyone will care passionately about justice, equality, and freedom. Curse all you want. But not on this blog. I will delete them as soon as I see them. I won’t back down.

Diane Ravitch

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a history at New York University who specializes in fascism and authoritarian leaders.

She wrote:

Authoritarianism is about having the power to get away with crime, and waging a genocidal war against another country without othercountries intervening in ways that force a cessation of conflict counts as a big win in the autocrat world. In fact, from the minute they receive intelligence about a planned invasion, autocrats watch carefully to see what happens to transgressors of the international order–and adjust their own plans for aggression accordingly.

Allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of annihilation against Ukraine to continue by not giving Ukraine the arms it needs to definitively repel the Russian invaders increases the risk that other autocrats will ramp up their own imperialist aspirations. Autocrats interpret any ambivalence about shutting down their peers’ territorial expansions as license to proceed with similar aggressive acts.

History is clear about what happens in such cases. Most people are familiar with the folly of the September 1938 British and French-brokered Munich agreement, which allowed the Third Reich to annex the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia six months after it annexed Austria.

Far fewer know about the earlier appeasement that set the stage for Hitler’s actions: Benito Mussolini’s war on League of Nations member Ethiopia, which started in October 1935. This was the biggest military operation since World War I, with Italy’s formidable air force dropping hundreds of tons of illegal chemical weapons on Ethiopians.

The weak sanctions levied on Italy by the League of Nations did not deter Il Duce from continuing to commit war crimes. He declared victory in May 1936, and occupied Ethiopia until the Allies drove the Italians out in 1941. “Was it ever likely to be effective?” Winston Churchill wrote critically of the sanctions in June. “Was it real or sham?” That same month, exiled Emperor Haile Selassie I denounced the war crimes to the League of Nations, but no action was taken against the Fascists.

By then, Mussolini’s admirer Hitler had all the information he needed about the consequences a despot might face for military aggression. In March 1936, while Mussolini’s war entered its sixth month, the Führer remilitarized the Rhineland, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.

Twenty-first century autocrats watch their kindred spirits’ fates with equal interest. Since the start of Putin’s war on democratic Ukraine, the world has become far less safe. A few weeks before the Russians invaded, Putin and Chinese head of state Xi Jinping issued a joint statementabout the new “multipolar” era of international relations. The premise of this new era –unrestrained imperialism for Russia and China– has become all too clear.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping together in Beijing, Feb. 4, 2022. Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP/via Getty Images

Xi Jinping has since become far more aggressive towards the West. His government has increased its rhetoric about its imperialistic claims on Taiwan. He has consolidated his personal power with a third term, while further puffing up his personality cult in ways not seen among Chinese premiers since Mao Zedong.

Turkey has also ramped up its bellicose and expansionist rhetoric regarding Syria and Greece. It has also persecuted Armenians, through its ally Azerbaijan, in the disputedterritory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Autocrats are transactional beings. You have a deal with an autocrat until you don’t, meaning no one should think that Putin will negotiate with or about Ukraine in good faith. That also holds for their relationships with each other (as Joseph Stalin discovered when Hitler invaded Russia despite signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact).

Even as dictators cheer on lawlessness that goes unpunished by the democratic order, they also circle each other like vultures, looking for signs of weakness that they can exploit. And everyone knows that Putin is more vulnerable as a player in the sphere of influence game with his resources and attention focused on Ukraine. Turkey, along with China, will seek to fill any power vacuum Putin’s weakness opens up in Eurasia and beyond.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s relationship with Putin has always been volatile. In the course of a few months in 2016 they went from almost going to war to being “best friends,” dining on plates that immortalized their friendship. I was skeptical of Erdogan’s early claims that he would be a “peacemaker” and mediator between Russia and Ukraine. Turkey intends to exploit this international crisis to increase its own power and prestige.

Now Serbian President Aleksandr Vucic has become the latest authoritarian to be galvanized by the possibilities created by the prolongation of Putin’s war. He has put his military on high alert, citing rising tensions with the Republic of Kosovo. Serbia does not recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

All of these conflicts have long histories that are independent of the new climate created by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet democratic powers’ acceptance of a continuance of Putin’s war will only further destabilize the international order. It also increases the chances that democratic strongholds such as Taiwan will be targeted for “reunification” –the word of choice for autocrats since the days of Hitler to market their imperialism to their peoples and the world.

That’s why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was right to state in his speech to U.S. Congress that supporting Ukraine is an investment in global security. He knows that when an autocrat gets away with an imperialist and genocidal war it only increases his megalomania and hubris, making it far more difficult to rein him in later on. It also increases the likelihood that other autocrats will commit their own aggressions toward targeted territories.

And it’s why the warning that economist Anders Aslund issued to his fellow Europeans should be heeded, not least because it builds on historical precedent. As an expert on Putin’s kleptocracy, Aslund knows the value and prestige impunity has among autocrats. “If you don’t deliver enough of arms & funds to Ukraine now,” he tweeted, “you might have to face Russian troops yourselves later on.”

I just made a donation to the AFT’s emergency fund to buy generators for Ukraine. As you probably know, Russia is losing on the battlefield so has targeted Ukraine’s infrastructure. Thecc Cc winter has begun, and Russia has destroyed power stations that generate heat, water supplies and light. Russia is making war on the civilian population, hoping to reduce their circumstances so that they die of the cold and/or starvation. Making war on the civilian population is a war crime, but Russia is determined to destroy Ukraine regardless of international norms.

Please contribute to the purchase of generators for Ukraine:

https://www.aft.org/disaster-relief-fund

I hope you will consider making a contribution.

This appeared on the website of the New York Times. It is about five minutes long.

Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just proved that he is the stupidest person in the world. He said in an interview that Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is “the most dangerous person in the world.”

More dangerous than the President of China, Xi Jinping, who is threatening the survival of Taiwan and re-imposing a repressive regime across China.

More dangerous than President Kim, the dictator of North Korea, who is threatening South Korea and the rest of the world, with his intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

More dangerous than Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, who is trying to destroy the people of Ukraine by destroying their access to heat, light, and water as winter begins,in addition to raining deadly missiles on them.

No, Pompeo says, Randi is “the most dangerous person in the world.”

Why? Because she leads a teachers’ unions, and unions are evil.

Teachers too are evil, Pompeo believes, because the children of America can’t read, write, or do math.

He said,

“I tell the story often — I get asked ‘Who’s the most dangerous person in the world? Is it Chairman Kim, is it Xi Jinping?’ The most dangerous person in the world is Randi Weingarten,” Pompeo said.

“It’s not a close call. If you ask, ‘Who’s the most likely to take this republic down?’ It would be the teacher’s unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids, and the fact that they don’t know math and reading or writing,” the former top U.S. diplomat added.

Randi replied:

In a thread on Twitter, Weingarten said she didn’t know if the remarks should be considered “ridiculous or dangerous.”

“At the state department, Pompeo defended Middle East’s tyrants & undermined Ukraine. He was more focused on pleasing Trump than fighting 4 freedom, national security & democracy. To compare us to China means he must not know what his own department says,” she wrote.

“Maybe spend a minute in one of the classrooms with my members and their students and you will get a real lesson in the promise and potential of America.”

Pompeo’s blast is ridiculous and stupid. But it’s also dangerous for Randi. It makes her a target of extremists in search of targets. This country has a surfeit of lunatics with guns. Pompeo should pay the cost of personal security for her.

His uninformed, ignorant remarks are insulting to teachers.

I challenge him to name a non-union state that outperforms unionized states.

Every teacher should belong to the AFT or the NEA. They would have higher salaries, health care, pensions, and job security. They would have state and national organizations to protect them in state legislatures and Congress.

The teaching profession is under fire by ignorant politicians like Pompeo. Consequently, many experienced teachers have resigned, and there is a national teacher shortage.

The best way to support teachers and their noble profession is to improve their stature, their salaries, and their working conditions. The only way that will happen is if there are strong unions to stand up for teachers, who alone are powerless.

Only strong unions will fight for the profession against the hostility of bombastic fools like Pompeo.

Pompeo can’t tolerate strong women or strong unions.