Archives for category: Freedom of the Press

Alexandra Olson of AP wrote about a strike by journalists who work for Gannett newspapers. A vibrant free press is essential to democracy. Talking heads reading from a script on television are not a good substitute for local journalism that holds power to account. The death of community and local newspapers narrows our sources of information and strengthens the handful of barons who own the networks.

NEW YORK (AP) — Journalists at two dozen local newspapers across the U.S. walked off the job Monday to demand an end to painful cost-cutting measures and a change of leadership at Gannett, the country’s biggest newspaper chain.

The strike involves hundreds of journalists at newspapers in eight states, including the Arizona Republic, the Austin American-Statesman, the Bergen Record, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and the Palm Beach Post, according to the NewsGuild, which represents workers at more than 50 Gannett newsrooms. Gannett has said there would be no disruption to its news coverage during the strike, which will last for two days at two of the newspapers and one day for the rest.

The walkouts coincided with Gannett’s annual shareholder meeting, during which the company’s board was duly elected despite the NewsGuild-CWA union urging shareholders to withhold their votes from CEO and board chairman Mike Reed as an expression of no confidence in his leadership. Reed has overseen the company since its 2019 merger with GateHouse Media, a tumultuous period that has included layoffs and the shuttering of newsrooms. Gannett shares have dropped more than 60% since the deal closed.

Susan DeCarava, president of the The NewsGuild of New York, called the shareholder meeting “a slap in the face to the hundreds of Gannett journalists who are on strike today.”

“Gannett CEO Mike Reed didn’t have a word to say to the scores of journalists whose livelihoods he’s destroyed, nor to the communities who have lost their primary news source thanks to his mismanagement,” DeCarava said in a statement.

In legal filing, the NewsGuild said Gannett’s leadership has gutted newsrooms and cut back on coverage to service a massive debt load. Cost-cutting has also included forced furloughs and suspension of 401-K contributions….

Among the contract demands are a base annual salary of $60,000. The median pay for Gannett employee in 2022 was $51,035, according to the company’s proxy filing. Reed’s total annual compensation was valued at nearly $3.4 million, down from $7.7 million in 2021.

At the shareholder meeting, NewsGuild-CWA President Jon Schleuss said the union proposed lowering Gannett’s median CEO-to-employee ratio from 66:1 to 20:1. But Schleuss said the meeting lasted just eight minutes and Reed didn’t address any questions. In a series of tweets, Schleuss called the meeting a “complete joke…”

Gannett, which owns USA Today and more than 200 other daily U.S. newspapers with print editions, announced last August that it would lay off newsroom staff to lower costs as it struggles with declining revenue amid a downturn in ad sales and customer subscriptions.

The newspaper industry has struggled for years with such challenges, as advertising shifts from print to digital, and readers abandon local newspapers for online sources of information and entertainment. Major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have gained substantial digital audiences for coverage of broad topics, but regional and local papers have struggled to replicate that success in narrower markets…

According to the NewsGuild, Gannett’s workforce has shrunk 47% in the last three years due to layoffs and attrition. At some newspapers, the union said the headcount has fallen by as much as 90%.

The Arizona Republic, for example, has gone from 140 newsroom employees in 2018 to 89 this year, the NewsGuild said. The Austin American-Statesman’s newsroom shrunk during that period from 110 employees in 2018 to 41 this year.

Elahe Izadi of the Washington Post wrote this about the strike:

Gannett merged with the GateHouse chain in 2019, a deal that executives promised would lead to dramatic cost savings while critics warned of job cuts and leaner newsrooms. While the resulting company included 261 daily newspapers and 302 weeklies, those numbers had shrunk by the end of last year to 217 dailies and 175 weeklies, after some papers were shuttered or sold.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle education reporter Justin Murphy said Monday’s protest represents a “desperation and fear that not only is our workplace and our employer going astray, but the consequences for our communities will be truly devastating.”

Gannett last summer froze hundreds of positions and laid off 400 employees — some of whom were the last remaining reporters at their newspapers — after a dismal financial quarter. Gannett has also offered voluntary buyouts and in December laid off 6 percent of its roughly 3,400-person news staff.

A year before he joined the paper in 2012, Murphy said the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle had a newsroom with 86 union members — a count that excludes editors and other managers — but that the number is now down to 23.

“Those of us who are left are kind of local journalism sickos who just can’t stop doing this,” he said. “As we’ve had cutbacks and cutbacks and they’ve asked us to do more and more, we’ve done it because we think it’s important that the work get done, and that’s just how we’re wired. But it’s one thing to do that when you have 86 people going to 80 or 73, but to 23? It doesn’t make sense anymore.”

Sportswriter Rob Aitken grew up reading the newspaper where he now works, the Record in northern New Jersey. “It was the best thing in the world to see your name in this paper,” he recalled. “It meant you were something.”

But now he says some high school sports are rarely written about, as staffers are stretched too thin. “You want to try to be everywhere and cover every great story. It makes you wonder how many great stories are not being told,” he said. “When we can tell a story about a kid and give them enough attention that maybe they get a college scholarship — you wonder how many kids aren’t getting that opportunity now.”

After the cutbacks, Gannett ended the year with a quarterly profit of $32.77 million, and $1.27 billion in outstanding debt.

The walkout also follows the departure of several top Gannett executives in recent months, as well as editors at some of the chain’s largest newspapers.

In a May earnings call, Reed said “2023 is off to a great start,” noting that the cuts and other “cost management initiatives” had boosted Gannett’s net income to $10.3 million, compared with a loss of $3 million during the first quarter of 2022. Digital subscriptions also grew by about 15 percent from the same time frame the previous year, totaling around 2 million paid subscribers.

Reed has also said he’s open to selling more Gannett newspapers.

“We would entertain bids on any of our markets, any of our products, that are at or above fair-market value,” he said in February. “We’re hopeful that we’ll have an opportunity this year to do that. But it’s not anything that’s in our plans.”

Retired educator Rich Migliore knows that the current rightwing demands for censorship violate the Constitution. Sadly, the current Supreme Court seems determined to obliterate the long-honored tradition of separation of church and state, creating a breach into which religious zealots are eagerly pushing their creeds. The high court has signaled through several of its recent decisions that at least five, possibly six, of its members are willing to eviscerate that separation.

He writes:

Freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the freedom to read books of our choice are among our most precious human rights. And the freedom from having other people’s religion and beliefs imposed upon us is among our basic human rights as a free people. That is why they were placed first in the Bill of Rights.

When we allow others to impose their religion and beliefs upon us we cease to be a free people. May I again quote from my favorite Supreme Court Opinion issued in the year that I graduated from high school.

“The vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools.” Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District; U.S. Supreme Court (1969), (quoting Justice Brennan in Keyishian v. Board of Regents.

“The classroom is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ The nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth ‘out of a multiple of tongues, (rather) than through any kind of authoritative selection.”

Our founders wisely separated church and state. And the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause protects our liberty interest in freedom of thought, freedom of belief and freedom of religion.

We do not give up those rights “when we cross the school house gates.” Nor do our children.

Memorial Day is a day to remember and pay tribute to the men and women who gave their lives to defend our democracy. Because of their sacrifice, we enjoy our freedoms. We are called upon not only to respect them and their sacrifices, but to be alert to today’s threats to the freedoms and rights we treasure. Voting rights are under attack. Censorship and book banning are on the rise. Red state legislatures are trying to control the blue cities in their midst. Red state legislatures are passing cookie-cutter laws to fund private and religious schools despite the opposition of the public. A woman’s right to control her body has been eliminated by red states. In a sad irony, the U.S. Supreme Court—which has long been the ultimate defender of our rights—is eroding democracy, under the control of rightwing ideologues, three of whom were appointed by Trump after being chosen by the extremist Federalist Society.

In that spirit, I post a comment by the polymath Bob Shepherd, who contributes his wisdom to us as a reader of the blog..

Pardon me, but this is so important that I want to make sure that I say the whole properly. So, some repetition here:

The Extreme Court decisions that just wiped out much of the power of the EPA to regulate air pollution (West Virginia v. EPA) and water pollution (Sackett v. EPA) in the United States are PART of an overall effort, begun in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, to ERASE much of the authority of the United States federal government on the basis of a NOVEL reinterpretation of the Constitution that ELIMINATES THE ABILITY OF THE EXECUTIVE TO EXERCISE UNENUMERATED POWERS–powers not SPECIFICALLY given it by the Constitution. This would reduce the federal government to a SHADOW of its former reach. Ron DeSantis just gave a speech in which he discussed precisely this, which he described as the necessity of “Reconstitutionalizing” our government:

“There’s a lot that the executive branch can do, and all I will say when it comes to these agencies… [is] buckle up when I get in there because the status quo is not acceptable, and we are going to make sure that we reconstitutionalize this government, and these agencies are totally out of control. There’s no accountability, and we are going to bring that in a very big way.”

In connection with this envisioned vast overhaul of U.S. governance, DeSantis made this chilling promise:

“Even my worst critics in Florida will acknowledge when I tell people I’m going to do something, I don’t make promises or say I’m going to do something lightly.”

Here’s what I think is happening: Repugnican leaders have recognized that if Jabba the Trump wins the nomination, they will lose again. So, the current plan is to remove Trump by standing aside and letting the judicial process do that for them via the various cases now pending against the Orange Idiot. That way, they can take him out of the picture while not alienating the Trumpanzees from themselves–they can blame the fall of the Glorious Leader on some Deep State conspiracy led by Biden. Then, DeSantis will assume the Orange mantle and carry forward, in the Executive branch, the agenda that the Reich-wing cabal at the head of the Judicial branch has set for itself. (NB: the Orange Idiot Trump was extremely useful to The Federalist Society because he, knowing nothing himself, simply rubber stamped putting those people in place–the ones now reenvisioning U.S. government entirely).

It is worth remembering in this regard that the revolution in Germany that scuttled democratic government there and put the Fascists under Hitler in power took place BY LEGAL MEANS. And so the history we haven’t learned from repeats itself. Couple this legal implementation of the no unenumerated powers theory with the independent state legislature theory also being endorsed by the Extreme Court (a theory that holds that state legislatures, which are predominately Repugnican, can hold do-overs if they don’t like election results) and you get the recipe for the end of democracy and the onset of Fascist governance in the United States.

This is how these traitors overthrow democratic government. In the background, not via some sort of January 6th event.


If you want to open your mind, read!

If you want to travel through time and space, read!

If you want to learn about other people and other cultures, read!

If you want to supercharge your creativity and imagination, read!

If you want to learn how other people see the world, read!

If you want to travel through time and space, read!

If you want to understand history, read!

Some people think these are dangerous activities. They want to control what students think. They censor books. They remove them from school libraries and public libraries. They forget that young people today have access to the Internet, which is not censored.

Live dangerously! Read books!

Let’s start at the beginning.

The Founding Fathers did not mention the word “education” in the Constitution. They left it as a state responsibility. However, the Founding Fathers did not ignore education. They drafted and approved the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787. These documents assured that new states would enter the United States on an equal footing with existing states. The Northwest Ordinance of 1785 declared that new towns would consist of 36 plots. One plot—#16, in the center of town—was to be set aside for a public school. Nothing was said about setting aside a plot for religious schools or private schools. Those were left to private discretion. (To learn more on this topic, read Derek Black’s Schoolhouse Burning; Black is a professor of law.)

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 forever banned slavery in the new states. And it included this provision: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Those today who seek to divert public funding to religious and private schools are repudiating the intentions of the Foundding Fathers.

The following tweets seem closer to understanding the wishes of the Founding Fathers than do the legislators of Arizona, Ohio, and other states that are using public funds to subsidize religious and private schools.

Leslie Postal and Annie Martin are star reporters for The Orlando Sentinel. In 2017, they wrote a three-part series on Florida’s voucher schools, showing the incidence of discrimination and unqualified staff, among other problems. The series, called “Schools Without Rules,” painted a devastating portrait of the low quality of the voucher sector.

This year, they sought access to the state’s records to open a new investigation. The state stonewalled them and put a high price on their access to public records. Here is their report:

One former teacher’s four-page complaint to the state urged an investigation into “the vast scope of educational neglect” taking place at the private Christian school in Osceola County. Another detailed concerns at a South Florida Jewish school. “Cleaning lady substituting for teacher,” it said.

In other complaints, parents wrote about upsetting incidents or worrisome deficiencies at their children’s private schools.

“Children of all ages are running out of classrooms screaming and hitting each other,” an Orange County mother wrote.

“They don’t provide lunch and they don’t even have a place to eat,” a Fort Lauderdale parent wrote.

“I don’t see any evidence of academics,” wrote a Panhandle parent.

These concerns were detailed in written complaints filed with the Florida Department of Education from 2015 to 2020 against private schools that take Florida school vouchers, the state scholarships that help families pay their children’s tuition bills.

In the past 18 months, at least 238 new complaints have been filed, according to the department. The Orlando Sentinel requested copies of those documents, and any related information gathered from the schools, on Jan. 24.

The request was similar to the public records requests it has made for complaints against private schools several times since 2017.

The education department said in a Feb. 15 email that it could provide copies of the complaint files for an estimated charge of $10,414.70 — an amount the newspaper considers exorbitant, out-of-line with what was charged in past years and an effort to block access to public records on a topic of public interest.

“The government isn’t supposed to be turning public records into a profit center for their agencies, and that seems to be what has developed in the last few years,” said Julie Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Orlando Sentinel and the Sun Sentinel in South Florida. “Either that, or they don’t want to fulfill the request.”

Journalists across the state are receiving excessive cost estimates in response to public records requests, said Michael Barfield, director of public access initiatives for the Florida Center Government Accountability, a Sarasota-based government watchdog group. He said he’s seen “a huge explosion and increase in fees” assessed by state agencies during the past 18 months to two years.

“I’ve been doing this for 30-plus years,” Barfield said. “It’s accurate to say that in the digital era, where everything is computerized, accessing public records has become more expensive than it was during the era when everything was on a typewriter and in filing cabinets.”

He added, “I’ve never seen fees like what we’re seeing now.”

$2 billion and growing

School vouchers are a hot topic in Florida, and across the country, this year. The complaints filed against participating private schools, the Sentinel has found, provide a window into the workings of some of the private schools that take part in the state voucher programs but operate mostly outside of state control.

The state’s current voucher programs spend nearly $2 billion to send more than 252,000 students to about 2,000 private schools. Gov. Ron DeSantis last month signed legislation making those programs, now mostly targeted to youngsters from low-income families, “universal” so that all school-age students in the state are eligible for scholarships.

State leaders predict about 80,000 additional students will take these state vouchers next school year.

In the Sentinel’s 2017 “Schools Without Rules” investigation, complaints helped the paper to document private schools that had hired teachers whose only academic credential was a high school diploma, employed instructors with criminal records, falsified fire and health inspections for their buildings and taught questionable academic lessons.

For the latest records request, the education department did not say how many pages of documents were in the 238 complaint files the Sentinel wants, but it estimated it would take 400 hours, or the equivalent of 10 work weeks, and “extensive use of resources and extensive clerical and supervisory assistance by the Department’s personnel” to fulfill it.

In 2017, the Sentinel paid $49.77 for eight complaint files, which were provided six days after the request was filed. At that rate, it would expect to pay about $1,500 for the 238 files. This year, it took the department three weeks to provide a cost estimate that topped $10,000.

The complaints typically do not lead to any action against the school. By law, the state has no control over the operations of private schools, even if they rely completely on state scholarships for their revenue.

Unlike public schools, such private schools can hire teachers without college degrees, teach whatever curricula they choose and set up in facilities — from storefronts to church meeting rooms — that do not meet Florida’s school building codes.

A parent who complained about a Miami school in 2020, for example, said it was not “providing the proper education, nutritional lunch or physical education” the family expected. The department sent the parent its standard letter saying it did not regulate private schools, but the parent “may wish to transfer your student to any other scholarship participating school.”

Typically, private schools can keep secret much of their information, from staff credentials to student success on standardized tests. But when someone files a complaint, a public record is created. If the complaint alleges violations of scholarship rules, the state can investigate and ask the school to provide documents, including employee background checks or credentials.

A single complaint the education department shared with the Sentinel in March — as attorneys for the paper and the department negotiated the scope and cost of the public records request — showed, for example, that three teachers at Downey Christian School in east Orange did not have bachelor’s degrees in October 2021, when a complaint against the school was filed.

Those instructors taught middle school math and science, high school English and high school math, the records show. The school enrolls more than 300 students who use state scholarships, bringing in more than $1.4 million, according to data from Step Up For Students, which administers most of Florida’s scholarships.

Downey’s administrator did not respond to a request for comment.

Most of the complaints from 2017 to 2020, many of them handwritten, detail the concerns of parents with children enrolled in the schools and the teachers who work there. But sometimes they include emails and documents from government officials, such as child welfare investigators or fire marshals.

‘Severe fire code violations’

In 2016, for example, the Orange County fire marshal contacted the education department about “severe fire code violations” that are “life safety critical” at a Pine Hills school.

The department said Agape Christian Academy had submitted paperwork indicating it was in compliance with fire codes, a requirement to take vouchers, but the fire marshal told state officials his office did not produce the documents.

The department revoked the school from the voucher program in 2017 after the fire code violations and other problems came to light.

That same year, a child welfare investigator raised concerns about the criminal record of a teacher at another west Orange school. Under state law, the woman should not have been hired at a school that accepted state scholarships, and the school fired her at the state’s insistence.

In 2021, the newspaper reported on the former Winners Primary School in west Orange where a teacher had been arrested on accusations of soliciting sexually explicit videos from a student. The complaint file helped document high teacher turnover, shoddy employee vetting procedures and the hiring of at least 10 teachers without college degrees as well as concerns about student safety and poor-quality academics.

“Someone needs to visit the school and see what takes place there,” wrote a parent who filed a complaint in 2019.

The school, which has since changed its name to Providence Christian Preparatory School, remains in the state voucher program, with about 170 students using scholarships, bringing in more than $570,000. The former teacher pleaded no contest to the use of a child in a sexual performance, a second-degree felony, last year.

The Sentinel’s attorney, Rachel Fugate, said she is continuing to negotiate with the department. “I’m still hopeful we reach a resolution that provides the Sentinel access to these meaningful documents at a reasonable cost,” she added.

Inflating cost estimates blocks access to records, discourages members of the public from making requests and interferes with the democratic process, Barfield said.

“We call them ‘public’ records because they belong to the public,” she said.

ProPublica wrote recently about a powerful organization of far-right conservatives that carefully avoids public scrutiny. They are wealthy, powerful, and networked, thanks to the Federalist Society and its mastermind Leonard Leo. Leo is the guy who picked judges for Trump and engineered the selection of Brett Kanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Please read this article about Teneo, an organization with long tentacles and a goal of crushing liberal ideas, ideas that are central to our democracy.

A few tidbits:

ProPublica and Documented have obtained more than 50 hours of internal Teneo videos and hundreds of pages of documents that reveal the organization’s ambitious agenda, influential membership and burgeoning clout. We have also interviewed Teneo members and people familiar with the group’s activities. The videos, documents and interviews provide an unfiltered look at the lens through which the group views the power of the left — and how it plans to combat it.

In response to questions for this story, Leo said in a statement: “Teneo’s young membership proves that the conservative movement is poised to be even more talented, driven, and successful in the future. This is a group that knows how to build winning teams.”

The records show Teneo’s members have included a host of prominent names from the conservative vanguard, including such elected officials as U.S. Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, a co-founder of the group. Other members have included Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, now the fourth-ranking House Republican, as well as Nebraska’s attorney general and Virginia’s solicitor general. Three senior aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, are members. Another is the federal judge who struck down a Biden administration mask mandate. The heads of the Republican Attorneys General Association, Republican State Leadership Committee and Turning Point USA — all key cogs in the world of national conservative politics — have been listed as Teneo members…

Teneo co-founder Evan Baehr, a tech entrepreneur and veteran of conservative activism, said in a 2019 video for new members that Teneo had “many, many, many dozens” of members working in the Trump administration, including in the White House, State Department, Justice Department and Pentagon. “They’re everywhere….”

Soon after Leo took an interest in Teneo, the group’s finances soared. Annual revenue reached$2.3 million in 2020 and nearly $5 million in 2021, according to tax records. In 2021, the bulk of Teneo’s income — more than $3 million — came from one source: DonorsTrust, a clearinghouse for conservative, libertarian and other charitable gifts that masks the original source of the money. In 2020, the Leo-run group that received the Chicago business owner’s $1.6 billion donation gave $41 million to DonorsTrust, which had $1.5 billion in assets as of 2021.

Teneo’s other funders have included marquee conservative donors: hedge fund investor Paul Singer, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the DeVos family, according to Baehr.

As the group’s finances improved, its videos became much more professionally produced, and its website underwent a dramatic upgrade from previous iterations. All of this was part of what Baehr called “Teneo 2.0,” a major leap forward for the group, driven in part by Leo’s guidance and involvement….

Many of the connections happen at Teneo’s annual retreat, which brings together hundreds of members and their spouses, plus allies including politicians like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and DeSantis as well as business leaders and prominent academics. Speakers at past Teneo retreats have included luminaries spanning politics, culture, business and the law: New York Times columnist David Brooks, federal judge Trevor McFadden, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, “Woke, Inc.” author and 2024 presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, former Trump cabinet official and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, ultrawealthy donors and activists Dick and Betsy DeVos, and Chick-fil-A board chair Dan Cathy.

These are the only posts today. Read them. Think about it. What did you learn? What should we do? None of us is a billionaire. How can we save our democracy?

Organize. Be informed. Vote.

Legislators in Florida have introduced a bill that would require bloggers who write about Ron DeSantis or his cabinet or legislators to register with the state. This is rich because gun buyers don’t have to register at all.

Apparently, the bill covers only paid bloggers, and Republicans consider them to be no different from lobbyists.

A Republican state senator in Florida has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require bloggers who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, his Cabinet or state legislators to register with the state.

Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill, titled “Information Dissemination,” would also require bloggers to disclose who’s paying them for their posts about certain elected officials and how much.

“If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register” with the appropriate office within five days of the post, the legislation says.

I’m in the clear because no one pays me to blog. I do hope there is a court case testing this among many other pieces of legislation intended to cement DeSantis’ control over everything in Florida.

More worrisome is the legislation that challenges the New York Times v. Sullivan case, which would allow DeSantis to sue his critics for defamation. Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch want to overturn that precedent too.

The New York Times published an editorial this morning critical of Florida’s effort to restrict free speech and press freedom.

It said:

A homeowner gets angry at a county commission over a zoning dispute and writes a Facebook post accusing a local buildings official of being in the pocket of developers.

A right-wing broadcaster criticizing border policies accuses the secretary of homeland security of being a traitor.

A parent upset about the removal of a gay-themed book from library shelves goes to a school board meeting and calls the board chair a bigot and a homophobe.

All three are examples of Americans engaging in clamorous but perfectly legal speech about public figures that is broadly protected by the Constitution. The Supreme Court, in a case that dates back nearly 60 years, ruled that even if that speech might be damaging or include errors, it should generally be protected against claims of libel and slander. All three would lose that protection — and be subject to ruinous defamation lawsuits — under a bill that is moving through the Florida House and is based on longstanding goals of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Even a tweet or a comment in Facebook would trigger a lawsuit.

In a direct attack on a key aspect of free expression, it says that whenever someone is accused of discriminating against others on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation, that accusation is automatically considered enough to sue for defamation. Any person accused of bigotry based on sexual orientation or gender identity could file a defamation lawsuit and be virtually guaranteed of winning by saying the discrimination was based on personal religious or scientific beliefs. The penalty for calling someone a bigot would be a minimum of $35,000.

Bloggers could no longer call DeSantis names like DeSatan or DeFascist. What a fragile ego he has. How will he survive Trump’s insults?

Governor Ron DeSantis is doing his best to crush academic freedom and the expression of views that differ from his own. He won a sweeping re-election victory in 2022, and his party has a super-majority in both houses of the legislature. Whatever DeSantis wants, the legislature will give him.

But that’s not enough. The Democratic Party is powerless and supine, but they have the nerve to speak out against the Governor’s authoritarian policies. He can’t tolerate any nay-sayers.

Fabiola Santiago, a journalist for the Miami Herald, wrote with incredulity about the GOP’s fascist ambitions:

Now, I can truly affirm that I have seen it all in Gov. DeSantis’ Florida.

The state’s Republican Party is no longer a fan of multiparty American democracy — and they feel no shame in saying so in public. Nor in proposing legislation to dismantle it.

When the Florida GOP’s tweet appeared on my Twitter news feed, I thought it was a joke or a parody. But what Republicans are up to this legislative season is no laughing matter.

After easily winning the gubernatorial election and obtaining a Republican super-majority in the Legislature that allows the party to act unimpeded, GOP chairman Chris M. Ziegler says he’ll take nothing less than eradicating the Democratic Party. His threat to give Democrats no seat at all at the table is very real.

Republicans are acting like the hemisphere’s evil regimes. They know it, but don’t care.

On February 25, 2023, at 11:30 a.m., the chairman of the Florida GOP, Chris Ziegler, posted a tweet @FloridaGOP in which he wrote:

from Chairman @ChrisMZiegler: “Until we get every Democrat out of office and no Democrat considers running for office, we’re going to continue to step on the gas and move forward in Florida.”

Chris Ziegler’s wife Bridget is the founder of the extremist group Moms for Liberty, which is deeply involved in protests against masks, in book banning, in fighting “critical race theory,” and in attacking gays and the teaching of Black history.

Santiago continues:

The U.S. Constitution and the system of checks and balances be damned. There was immediate pushback on Twitter.

A person identifying as @k_kojei answered Ziegler: “I disagree. We need dissenting voices. That’s what a democracy is about. The problem is not helped by a one-sided view of things. Polarization is just that, no matter who does it! There has to be dialog and balance or we remain only half represented!”

Ziegler doubled down.

“We are doing just fine not giving Democrats a seat at the table in Florida,” he said, mimicking what the planet’s dictators, who think countries are their personal fiefdoms, say about the opposition.

“I recommend other states to do the same!”

More people enter the conversation, at first, remarkably civil in tone, given the sewer speech Twitter attracts.

Some of the horrified were Republican.

“That is extreme and Totalitarian by definition. Not a good look!” tweeted a man who describes himself as a “patriot” with “a recently restored account after two years. Starting from scratch. Unapologetically Conservative American!! #MAGA

“No, it’s DEMOCRACY!” retorts Ziegler, the kind of Florida man who lives in an alternate universe, and so dumb — or sure of his party’s power — that he accuses the Republicans who disagree with him of being “leftist.”

Finally, a ‘fighting for our republic” Floridian from the Treasure Coast brings a fitting hashtag to the conversation — #FloridaWhereFreedomDies. She posts a checklist of tactics Nazis used in their rise to power.

It’s eerily familiar, but nothing new to those of us who have visited museums in Israel and Germany. It all begins with religious, ethnic and lifestyle persecution, silencing the media and obliterating political opposition.

The Florida GOP and DeSantis’ ballyhooed platform is ticking off a whole lot of unimaginably undemocratic boxes.



Pictured in this April 14, 2017 photo, Christian Ziegler, 33, a marketing professional from Sarasota, has become the Florida GOP chairman going into the 2024 presidential race. He made the constitutionally questionable vow to eradicate Florida’s Democratic Party and defended a one-party state. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

Legislator files bill

Unfortunately, talk is only the beginning.

Destroying the Democratic Party is no empty threat.

As if the new GOP chairman acting like a two-bit Third World dictator-wannabe wasn’t egregious enough, his words were quickly followed by legislative action.

Former GOP chairman, Blaise Ingoglia, 2015-2019, threw the law behind Ziegler’s words.

Now Ingoglia, a 52-year-old Spring Hills home builder — named one of Tampa Bay’s most influential politicians — filed Tuesday “The Ultimate Cancel Act,” SB 1248, creating the conditions to force the Division of Elections to declare the Democratic Party illegal in Florida.

Reading the dangerous gobbledygook contained in Ingoglia’s bill is an exercise similar to interpreting Cuba’s repressive laws, where the bureaucratic entwining of edicts achieves the goal of making the repression look reasonable to the outside world.

Ingoglia has concocted a ruse: Rule the Democratic Party racist, claiming it’s because Southern Democrats supported slavery in the 1800s, and order it dismantled the way Confederate monuments are forced to come down.

His legal maneuvering is purely a power trip. Sad to say, but it’s unnecessary. The inept Florida Democrats, the 2020 midterms showed, aren’t a serious political threat.

The GOP, however, should scare every Floridian — and, given DeSantis’ 2024 ambitions, every American. We’re just a stepping stone.

The Florida GOP is DeSantis’ party. Nothing happens behind his back. This hardened, fascist Florida is a carefully planned, if sometimes stupidly executed, plot to destroy the United States as we know it.

This isn’t unlike the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in 2021, only the men leading the charge are in suits instead of camouflage.

What institution will defend Floridians from tyranny when the GOP has so cleverly staged a takeover of every sector in the state?

Emboldened Florida Republicans aren’t happy with simply winning by big margins.

They want what every dictator has: total domination over what people think, whom they love, what they read. Total political control over law and policy without organized opposition to offer an alternative.

Floridians must wake up. It’s imperative.

The author Fabiola Santiago

None of this is happening without DeSantis’s knowledge and support. It sounds insane and fascist, but it is real. Ron DeSantis shows his true colors.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds regular press conference where he issues new policies intended to curb the freedoms of some marginalized group or to impose his views on the whole state. Whenever he eliminates someone’s freedom, he boasts about Florida standing for “freedom.” What he means is that in Florida, everyone is free to agree with him.

Obviously he’s running for the Republican nomination for President, and he has decided that he must out-Trump Trump. He must be more racist, more homophobic, more xenophobic, and more contemptuous of democratic norms than Trump.

Trump often complained about his inability to sue reporters who criticized him. Many years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that prominent public figures could not sue the press for libel unless they are able to prove “malicious intent.” This standard was so high that it was virtually impossible for a president or governor or senator to sue and win.

DeSantis intends to change that by crafting a new law making it easier for him to sue reporters. This law, if challenged, would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It could curtail press freedom across the nation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has targeted one political enemy after another, from removing a top state prosecutor in Tampa who disagreed with him on abortion rights to promoting an “anti-woke” agenda that limits the teaching of racism in public schools and diversity hiring programs at universities. He even went after business behemoth Disney when its CEO opposed an educational bill, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Now, Florida lawmakers — with the support of the governor — are taking aim at the media, pushing legislation that would dramatically weaken legal standards in place for more than a half century that protect the freedom of the press to report on politicians and other powerful public figures.

The bill would make it easier to sue media outlets for allegations of defamation and make it harder for journalists to do their jobs by undermining the use of unnamed sources, an important reporting tool — particularly for media trying to pull back the curtain on the dealings of elected officials.

Many First Amendment advocates and legal experts say it is clearly intended to muzzle reporters who serve as watch dogs for the public. “I see this as a deliberate effort to punish media organizations that have been critical of the governor and the Republican Legislature,” Thomas Julin, a First Amendment attorney with the Gunster law firm in Miami, said in an interview. “It’s doing that by stripping away protections that were seen as essential for those organizations to remain strong.

“It’s encouraging more people to file more damage claims and punitive damage claims against media organizations,” Julin told the Herald. “They’re trying to put them out of business. … What’s disturbing is that it’s meant to help DeSantis get elected as president — not because it’s good policy.”

The bill, filed by a GOP lawmaker this week, also poses a threat to press freedom beyond Florida. Given the governor’s clout in Tallahassee, it stands a solid chance of passage this spring in the Republican-controlled state Legislature and would likely spur more defamation cases in Florida, legal experts say.

Because of the clear-cut constitutional questions, the legislation could eventually be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where at least two justices have already signaled they are interested in revisiting libel law and press protections.

The Florida legislation (HB991) aims to eliminate longstanding protections for the news media in their coverage of politicians, government officials and public figures. For starters, the bill directly challenges a 1964 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, New York Times v. Sullivan, that created a formidable standard — “actual malice” — in defamation disputes.

When the Civil Rights-era case in Alabama was decided as a constitutional First Amendment issue, the Supreme Court unanimously defined the new actual malice standard as making a false statement about a public official “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” Those words were critical because from that point forward, public officials, along with public figures later on, have been faced with proving that a media outlet knew its reporting was false or inaccurate to clear the “actual malice” bar in a defamation lawsuit.

If passed, Florida’s anti-media bill would be the only one of its kind in the nation. But First Amendment advocates fear other states could follow and the legislation could clear the path for weakening press protections across the county.

Two conservative Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas, who is admired by DeSantis, and Neil Gorsuch, already have expressed in prior libel case rulings their interest to reevaluate that bedrock legal principle, citing the rapidly changing digital landscape of news reporting propelled by rampant misinformation, inaccuracies and conspiracies posted on social media site.

The Court already demonstrated its indifference to precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade.

Read more at: