Archives for category: Freedom to Read

The state legislature in Texas passed a bill that will place an expensive burden on the state’s 300 or so small small bookstores. The mandate is not only costly but almost impossible to comply with. The state wants every bookstore to rate every book they sell by its “sexual content” and to refuse to sell books with sexually explicit content to teachers, librarians, and school libraries. In addition, the bookstores are supposed to report whether they have ever in the past sold books with such content to teachers or schools.

Independent bookstores around Texas warn that a bill designed to rid school libraries of sexual content could have unintended consequences that devastate their businesses.

The bill, which received final passage in the Legislature this week and is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature, requires booksellers to rate every book they sell to a school, librarian or teacher for use in their classroom. Books can be without a rating, “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit,” and those with the explicit rating will be banned from schools entirely.

And by April of next year, every bookseller in the state is tasked with submitting to the Texas Education Agency a list of every book they’ve ever sold to a teacher, librarian or school that qualifies for a sexual rating and is in active use. The stores also are required to issue recalls for any sexually explicit books.

Many have expressed concerns that the bill is an effort to restrict books with LGBTQ themes or by Black authors. In addition, throughout the legislative process, independent bookstores repeatedly have warned that the bill misunderstands how book sales to schools work, is unworkable in its current form and could be harmful to small businesses.

“The First Amendment person in me says, ‘Why do we have to mark the books at all? ’ The business person in me says, ‘that’s going to be very hard to administer for the middle vendor,’ which we are,” said Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Book Shop in Houston.

Owners and employees of bookstores around the state have said they don’t have the staff or expertise to read and rate every single book they are selling to an educator, and they have no records to retroactively rate every book they’ve ever sold to a school. If the TEA finds that bookstores have been incorrectly rating books, they can be banned from doing business with charter schools or school districts, which might make up between 10 percent and a third of their business.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco. He dubbed it the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources act, or READER Act. The measure was born out of conservative fears in the last few years of sexual content in public schools. Many of the books that were subsequently identified as inappropriate were written for LGBTQ children and teenagers.

Patterson has said the bill was inspired by “Gender Queer,” a coming-of-age graphic novel that explores the author’s gender identity and personal sexuality.

“We’re not talking about a certain type of sexual activity. We’re talking about sexually explicit of any sort. It doesn’t belong in front of the eyes and in the minds of kids,” Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, said during a Senate debate Tuesday night. Paxton shepherded the measure through that chamber. [Senator Paxton is the wife of State Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was just impeached for multiple financial crimes by the Texas House.]

Paxton said the bill will mostly affect large vendors, as just 50 companies sell most books purchased by Texas public schools, and three giants are responsible for the bulk of titles in campus libraries.

“If vendors want to sell books in Texas, they certainly have a vested interest in making sure it’s done properly,” she added.

But while those large vendors may be able to more easily bear the extra costs associated with this bill if it becomes law, it will be more difficult for the roughly 300 independent bookstores in Texas that have much smaller profit margins overall than the giants.

It’s common for stores to offer discounts for teachers, librarians and schools, which means the margins on those sales are lower.

For example, a librarian might give the store a list of 150 books they want to buy, at an average of 200 pages each. If this bill becomes law, the store will need to pay someone to read and rate each of those books, and run the risk of being punished by the Texas Education Agency if they get it wrong.

This could either make it more expensive for schools to buy books or make such sales infeasible for small bookstores, said Elizabeth Jordan, general manager of Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio. Her store had a goal of increasing its share of sales to schools to about 15 percent of its total business, she said, but that will no longer be possible.

“If I am selling a book to a school, I will have to have read the whole book to determine if it’s sexually relevant or sexually explicit. And both of those things, I think, are pretty subjective, and I might rate them differently than others might,” she said. “I don’t see why I would put myself at risk to do that. If all the onus is on me, all the liability is on me, and it’s not a job I’m trained to do or my employees are trained to do….

In addition, the bill requires stores to retroactively rate every book they’ve ever sold that is still “in active use by (a) district or school.”

“The way the bill is written right now is that not only can we get in trouble for what we sell to a school, we can get in trouble for something we sold 10 years ago to a school,” Koehler said.

The Associated Press published this article about how DeSantis has unleashed a nation-wide zeal for censorship. It appeared in newspapers across the nation.

TALLAHASSEE — As he vies for the Republican presidential nomination, laws pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis have led to an upswing in banned or restricted books not only in Florida schools but also in an increasing number of other conservative states.

Florida last year became the first in a wave of red states to enact laws making it easier for parents to challenge books in school libraries they deem to be pornographic, deal improperly with racial issues or are in other ways inappropriate for students.

Books ensnared in the Florida regulations include explicit graphic novels about growing up LGBTQ+, a children’s book based on a true story of two male penguins raising a chick in a zoo and “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison that includes descriptions of child sexual abuse. Certain books covering racial themes also have been pulled from library shelves, sometimes temporarily, as school administrators try to assess what material is allowed under the new rules.

While efforts to ban books or censor education material have come up sporadically over the years, critics and supporters credit DeSantis with inspiring a new wave of legislation in other conservative states to regulate the books available in schools — and sometimes even in public libraries.

The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the U.S. last year was the highest in the 20 years the American Library Association has been tracking such efforts.

EveryLibrary, a national political action committee, said it’s tracking at least 121 proposals introduced in state legislatures this year targeting libraries, librarians, educators and access to materials. The group said 39 of those proposals would allow for criminal prosecution.

“He really is blazing a trail,” said Tiffany Justice, the Florida-based co-founder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, whose members have filed challenges to books in libraries in several states. “What Ron DeSantis does that I think is effective is he uses all the levers of power to make long-term change happen.”

“Other governors,” Justice said, “are paying attention and following suit.

In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law, set to take effect this summer, that could impose criminal penalties on librarians who knowingly provide “harmful” materials to minors. The law also would establish a process for the public to challenge materials and ask they be relocated to a section minors can’t access.

“It’s a perverse world when we’re talking about trying to criminalize librarians,” said Nate Coulter, executive director of the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock, which is expected to sue over Arkansas’ law.

In Indiana, school libraries will be required by July 1 to publicly post a list of books they offer and provide a complaint process for community members under a law Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed this month. In Texas, a bill creating new standards for banning books from schools that the government considers too explicit has been sent to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

In Oklahoma, the state school board has approved new rules that prohibit “pornographic materials and sexualized content” in school libraries and allow parents to submit formal complaints. The rules still must be approved by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt.

DeSantis insists books aren’t being banned, preferring to call the forced removal of some books “curation choices that are consistent with state standards.

“There has not been a single book banned in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said Wednesday. He later said, “our mantra in Florida is education, not indoctrination.”

Librarians, free speech advocates and some parents and educators say the push is driven by a small, conservative minority that happens to have outsized clout in Republican primaries like the one DeSantis is now competing in.

“This is all part of his plan to run for president, and he believes his vilification of books and what’s happening in public schools is his path to the presidency,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union.

Kasey Meehan, who directs the Freedom to Read program at the writers’ organization PEN America, said that, when books are targeted in Florida, they later become the subject of complaints filed by parents in other states.

“It’s something that continues to cause alarm for individuals who are advocating for the freedom to read or for a diversity of knowledge, ideas and books to be available to students across the country,” Meehan said.

There have been challenges to books in schools for decades — “The Bluest Eye” has been targeted in various states for years, long before DeSantis became governor.

But the restrictions accelerated in Florida after DeSantis signed bills last year barring discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms, a ban that has since expanded through 12th grade. He also created a mechanism for parents to challenge books in school libraries and has targeted how race is taught in Florida schools.

Many teachers and districts complain that the laws’ standards are so vague they don’t know what books might place them in legal jeopardy.

Michael Woods, a special education teacher in Palm Beach, said new rules compelling him to catalog books in his classroom led him to empty a small library he set up where students could choose to read something that interested them. Now those volumes are stored in a box he’s stashed in his closet for fear of getting in trouble.

“That kind of positive connection to reading is no longer there,” he said.

The individual challenges to books might be coming from a fairly narrow segment of the population, according to PEN and the American Library Association, which track requests to pull books. The library association said 40% of all requests challenged 100 or more books at a time.

Raegan Miller of Florida Freedom to Read, a group fighting the book restrictions, said she has talked about education issues with fellow parents of all political persuasions for years, and no one has ever complained about inappropriate material in their children’s schools. She contends the issue has been ginned up by a small group of conservative activists.

“Do you really think we are all just happily dropping our kids off at Marxist indoctrination and pornography?” Miller said. “You only hear this stuff at school board meetings.”

Moms for Liberty, which boasts 285 chapters, has a strong presence at school board meetings in the state and nationwide. It also has successfully backed several candidates for school board.

When Ron DeSantis launched his candidacy on Twitter, he scoffed at the notion that schools were banning books in Florida. That alone should disqualify him, based on what we have seen, heard and read about the state’s encouragement of banning books that refer to gays or racism. A complaint by a single parent is sufficient to get a book removed from the school library. Most recently, a parent at an elementary school complained about Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” which she read at President Biden’s inauguration. The poem is now available to middle school children, but not to those in the elementary school.

The Miami Herald published this editorial about the phenomenon that DeSantis says is non-existent, a hoax.

Perhaps it’s because of how Amanda Gorman alluded to the Jan. 6 attack in her famous poem, finished the night after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol: “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.”

Or maybe she wrote too bluntly about race and the legacy of slavery:

“We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”

Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, read “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, watched by about 40 million people. She wrote the poem so “that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment,” she posted on Twitter Tuesday.

But Gorman’s poem is now deemed not age appropriate, one of four library titles Bob Graham Education Center banned, following a parent’s complaint, for elementary school students, the Herald reported. The books are now available only for middle-schoolers at the public school in Miami Lakes, even though some of them were written for younger children.

The school committee that reviewed the material didn’t offer an explanation for its decision. We’re left to wonder: What in the children’s illustrated book “The ABCs of Black History,” written for children ages 5 and up, made it so inappropriate?

Perhaps it was the mention of iconic author James Baldwin’s sexual orientation: “And he was a gay man who believed that when it comes to love, you should ‘go the way your blood beats.” Or the mention of the Little Rock Nine, the “first Black children in all-white schools,” or the Black Panther movement. Or were the colorful drawings of Black female icons like Michelle Obama and Toni Morrison — described as “ queens”— too much?

One thing is clear: Books by Black authors — and about the Black American experience — make up three of the four titles deemed inappropriate for young children at Bob Graham Education Center. The other one, “Cuban Kids,” uses photos to describe the lives of children in Cuba in the early 2000s and how different or similar they are to Americans, according to the author’s homepage. Learning about the lives of their counterparts in a socialist country — including how they got around paper shortages — is sure to turn our kids into communists.

We knew that the movement to “sanitize” school libraries that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature unleashed would eventually catch up with Miami-Dade. Our melting pot, after all, might not be so different from Escambia County in the Panhandle, whose school board has been sued for removing books about race and LGBTQ topics.

Florida’s laws have emboldened parents and activists like Moms for Liberty to challenge materials dealing with these topics. Most recently, DeSantis signed a bill that empowers one person to file a complaint and ban a book, at least temporarily, while a district reviews it. Parents not satisfied with how a district ruled on the challenge can appeal to the state. That is bound to make schools acquiesce to offended parents.

The result, as Gorman wrote on Twitter after her poem was restricted, is that “most of the forbidden works are by authors who have struggled for generations to get on bookshelves.”

Elementary students were not required to read Gorman’s work or any of the challenged titles. These were options at Bob Graham Education Center’s library. Those options also should be available for the children of all parents, not only those offended by certain content or groups skimming books to find any remote reference to race or LGBTQ issues.

“Love to Langston” was written at a second-grade reading level but no longer is accessible to second-graders at Bob Graham. The illustrated biography of Harlem Renaissancewriter Langston Hughes describes his own elementary school experience, tainted by racism, in the early 1900s:

“In Topeka, Kansas the teacher makes me sit in the corner; in the last row; far away; from the other kids.”

The parent who filed the complaint said “Love to Langston” contained critical race theory, “indirect hate messages,” gender ideology and indoctrination, the Herald reported. It’s unclear how.

It is curious, however, that “indoctrination” and “hate messages” seem to be flagged mostly when when Black authors write about being Black, or when LGBTQ authors write about being queer. The adults must ask themselves why that’s the case before making them inaccessible to 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.

The editorial board of the prestigious journal “Scientific American” lambasted Ron DeSantis’ hostility to science, which endangers the people of Florida. Should he be successful in his quest for the Presidency, his retrograde ideology would endanger the entire nation. His combination of “cruelty, bigotry, and megalomania” will cause endless harm to the U.S.

Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is running for president of the United States on a record of anti-diversity, pro-censorship, white nationalistmeasures. He has targeted education, LGBTQ rights and access to health care, and should he prevail, his anti-science candidacy stands to harm millions of Americans.

DeSantis has banned books in school libraries, restricted teachers’ classroom discussions about diversity, prohibited high school classes that focus on Black history and people, politicized college curricula, limited spending on diversity programs, ignored greenhouse gas reduction in climate change policy, diminished reproductive rights and outlawed transgender health care.

The governor has refused all evidence that masks are safe and help prevent COVID, appointed a surgeon general who advised against vaccines, and continues to paint science and evidence as restrictions to the freedom of Floridians. Instead of limiting the role of government, as he claimed in his fight against masks, he is expanding it to selectively promote a particular religious agenda.

The maternal mortality rate in Florida is rising, yet DeSantis signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, outlawing it after six weeks of pregnancy and endangering people who have life-threatening complications that termination could help. Black women in Florida have the worst maternal mortality rates of any group in the state, and research has shown that people who are denied abortions and forced to give birth suffer mentally, financially and educationally. These statistics surely won’t improve under these new laws, which are pushing health care providers to move out of the state.

By making gender-affirming care for youth illegaland disparaging the use of preferred pronouns and names, the governor and his followers will undoubtedly add to the suffering of transgender individuals. Multiple studies have looked at the mental health of transgender teens. Researchers have found that giving puberty blockers to youth questioning the gender they were assigned at birth reduces depression, anxiety and anger. In another study, 56 percent of transgender youth surveyed had attempted suicide, and causes included feeling they didn’t belong, being excluded and a profound lack of self-worth.

Despite Florida’s vulnerability to climate change, whether through natural disaster or sea-level rise, DeSantis has ignored scientific evidence again, refusing to address the role of greenhouse gas emissions in global warming. He has focused instead on adaptation, or resiliency measures. He’s also nixed sustainable investment efforts like bonds that would fund renewable energy measures in the state. But adaptation and mitigation go hand-in-hand. Without reducing the cause of climate change, adaptation will only go so far, and under DeSantis, Florida remains at high risk of climate-related disaster.

DeSantis has signed bills allowing people to challenge school library books they deem unfit for children. To date, books pulled from library shelves include a biography of baseball player Roberto Clemente (which was later restored), poetry from Amanda Gorman, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and books about Black, Cuban and LGBTQ perspectives.

The authors of several books that have been pulled from Florida’s shelves have sued the state for violating both their First Amendment rights to free speech and their 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law. The teachers’ union and other groups are suing on the grounds that the law extends beyond schools into public libraries.

His “Don’t Say Gay” law prevents teachers from talking about homosexuality or being transgenderthrough high school. Such rules prevent comprehensive sex education and invalidate LGBTQ students, adding to the mental health burden of a state that has a severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists.

DeSantis and the far right misrepresent critical race theory (which examines the role of race in the legal system) and pressured the College Board to remove references to the theory from the Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum. The governor’s actions are part of a large-scale misinformation campaign to stoke white fear and uphold white nationalism. Yet, racism is reality, and in our multicultural, multilingual, global society, promoting white nationalism will create a generation of students who cannot reason and think as critically as their peers.

The governor has also banned Florida colleges’ efforts to promote diversity, inclusion and equity. The bans could affect all aspects of education, including efforts to recruit nonwhite STEM students and scientists to higher education. He has stacked the New College of Florida board of trustees, historically apolitical, with conservative ideologues to create an institute of higher learning that adheres to his version of American education and white exceptionalism, which is explicitly modeled on conservative evangelical Christian colleges.

What Ron DeSantis has done in Florida mirrors efforts in other states, including Texas. He is among a new class of conservative lawmakers who speak of freedom while restricting freedom. This political maneuvering is part of building his national presence yet it does not represent most Americans’ views. The population of Florida is growing fasterthan most other places in the U.S., but the state is now poised to have fewer critical thinkers, fewer people of color as educators and as the subjects of education, more deaths in childbirth, and scores of people in the throes of crisis because of their identities. A country led by someone wielding such cruelty, bigotry and megalomania will never be “a more perfect Union.”

Michael Hiltzik, columnist for the Los Angeles reviewed the debut of Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign on Twitter, accompanied by Elon Musk. DeSantis boasted about the glory of debate and free speech, which he has done his best to stifle in Florida. And he adamantly denied that there was any book banning in his state, despite the fact that PEN America says that Florida is number two in the most books banned, behind Texas. The guy rules Florida with an iron hand, suppressing the teaching of history he doesn’t like, demonizing drag queens and anything LGBT, and encouraging vigilante censorship.

Column: Ron DeSantis and Elon Musk give us a preview of the chaos of a DeSantis presidency

The SpaceX Starship

Elon Musk hosted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Twitter for DeSantis’ announcement of his presidential candidacy. It went about as well as the April 20 launch of a rocket by Musk’s SpaceX, which ended in an explosion that destroyed the spacecraft.

(Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)


I was taking my customary siesta Wednesday afternoon when I was jolted awake by the sound of a truck straining to go uphill. Come to discover that I had my computer tuned to Elon Musk’s Twitter, where Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was struggling to get out the official announcement of his candidacy for president.

The noise turned out to be Musk trying to get the thing to work in real time, amid feedback, weird musical interludes and long stretches of silence. Scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Pacific time, it finally got going on Twitter Spaces, an audio-only application on the platform, about 18 minutes late. I listened, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

As he struggled to resolve repeated glitches in Twitter Spaces, Musk and the moderator, a Musk acolyte named David Sacks, kept trying to assert that the technical screw-up was, in fact, a triumph brought about by the large audience. (Sacks claimed that more than 300,000 users had logged in.) “We are melting the servers, which is a good sign,” Sacks said early on.

This reminded many listeners of the claim by SpaceX, another Musk venture, that its April 20 launch of a prototype rocket, which ended with the vehicle exploding in flight four minutes after lift-off, was a success. Never mind that the launch destroyed the launchpad, showered a neighboring community with debris and prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to mount a major investigation.

Once it got underway, the Twitter event unfolded as a love fest between DeSantis and Musk. The general theme was what my mother used to describe as “I like me, who do you like?”

Musk and DeSantis praised each other for their dedication to free speech, and Sacks brought on several right-wing sophists to add their voices. They included Jay Bhattacharya, one of the drafters of the Great Barrington Declaration, which, as I reported this week, advocated letting the COVID virus run rampant through the population in quest of the elusive goal of “herd immunity” — at the cost (thus far) of more than 1.13 million American lives.

Another was Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), whose claim to fame on a national scale was issuing a Christmas tweet in 2021 showing himself, his wife and their five kids brandishing assault weapons. “Santa, pls bring ammo,” the tweet read. (In December 2021, there were 39 mass shootings in the U.S., taking 36 lives and wounding 160.)

DeSantis said Florida was safer than blue-state cities, where “you got kids more likely to get shot than to receive a first-class education.” A reminder: One of the worst school shootings in American history took place in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018, when 17 people were killed and 17 injured. In April, DeSantis signed a law allowing Floridians to carry guns without a permit.

It would be wrong to say there weren’t some lighthearted moments during the Twitter event. Unfortunately for DeSantis, the best joke came from President Biden: While Musk was struggling to get the event launched, Biden posted a tweet that read, “This link works,” pointing to a fund-raising site for the Biden-Harris campaign.

If you were looking for policy prescriptions from the freshly minted candidate, you didn’t hear anything new. Put it this way: If you were at a party where you had to down a shot of whiskey every time DeSantis uttered the word “woke,” you were reduced to insensibility within ten or twenty minutes. If the drinking game included a shot when DeSantis took a shot at “the legacy media,” you may have needed to get your stomach pumped.

Other than that, it was a festival of cynical lies and rank hypocrisies uttered by DeSantis.

He spoke up for free speech and open debate, for instance. “People should be exposed to different viewpoints,” he said. “You can’t have a free society unless we have the freedom to debate the most important issues that are affecting our civilization.”

This is the guy who has waged a ferocious battle with Walt Disney Co. because Disney had spoken out against his “Don’t Say Gay” law, which stifles the teaching of gender issues in the schools.

When Sacks primed him with a question about the fight with Disney, DeSantis replied, “We believe jamming gender ideology in elementary school is wrong; Disney obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school.” He added that Disney’s “corporate culture had really been outed as trying to inject matters of sex into the programming for the youth.” One doesn’t have to be a fan of Disney to see that as fatuous claptrap.

DeSantis also dismissed accusations that Florida is a hotbed of book-banning as “a hoax.” All his administration has done, he said, has been “to empower parents with the ability to review the curriculum, to know what books are being used in school.” That’s one way of looking at it.

The right way is to observe that he’s empowered a tiny cadre of reactionary activists to force books they don’t like off the shelves of Florida schools. As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, a majority of the complaints about schoolbooks nationwide have come from just 11 complainants. Florida ranks second among the states in the number of schoolbook challenges, after Texas.

By the way, one of the Republican toadies DeSantis appointed to the board created to oversee Disney’s development district (as part of his retaliation against the company) is Bridget Ziegler, co-founder of the right-wing censorship-happy organization Moms for Liberty.

When Bhattacharya came online, DeSantis took the opportunity to boast about his success against the COVID pandemic. The truth is that Florida’s record is one of abject, lethal failure. Florida’s COVID death rate of 411 per 100,000 population is the 10th worst in the nation. DeSantis has appointed Bhattacharya to a state panel investigating federal COVID policy.

DeSantis claimed to have based his COVID policies on his determination to “look at the data…. There was a concerted effort to try to stifle dissent.” This can only be interpreted as some kind of gag. DeSantis installed a COVID crackpot, Joseph Ladapo, as Florida’s surgeon general.

Ladapo has promoted useless anti-COVID nostrums such as ivermectin, and counseled against the COVID vaccines. “Looking at the data”? As the Tampa Bay Times has reported, based on official state documents, Ladapo deliberately removed data from an official state report on the vaccines that contradicted his claim that the vaccines were unsafe for young men; in fact, studies show that the vaccines are far safer for them than being infected by the virus.

The event ended with a paean by Musk and DeSantis to cryptocurrency, which is tantamount to enticing innocent small investors into immolating their nest eggs in a scam.

“We should do it again,” DeSantis said in closing the feed. “We’ll make sure that we come back and do it again. This is a great platform.”

We shall see. The next DeSantis appearance on Twitter could be just as buggy, or worse. All that we can be sure of is that whatever happens, Elon Musk will deem it a great success.

NPR reported on a warning issued by the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP. Travelers should avoid Florida, where there is a pervasive air of bigotry and easy access to guns. The warning nearly coincided with Ron DeSantis’ declaration of his campaign, on a media platform with billionaire Elon Musk. DeSantis will tout his record of stern opposition to migrants, gays, drag queens, transgender people, Black history, and his unwavering support for censorship and guns.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The NAACP over the weekend issued a travel advisory for Florida, joining two other civil rights groups in warning potential tourists that recent laws and policies championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”

The NAACP, long an advocate for Black Americans, joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino civil rights organization, and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, in issuing travel advisories for the Sunshine State, where tourism is one of the state’s largest job sectors.

The warning approved Saturday by the NAACP’s board of directors tells tourists that, before traveling to Florida, they should understand the state of Florida “devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

Critics say Florida aims to rewrite history by rejecting African American studies

An email was sent Sunday morning to DeSantis’ office seeking comment. The Republican governor is expected to announce a run for the GOP presidential nomination this week.

Florida is one of the most popular states in the U.S. for tourists, and tourism is one of its biggest industries. More than 137.5 million tourists visited Florida last year, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency. Tourism supports 1.6 million full-time and part-time jobs, and visitors spent $98.8 billion in Florida in 2019, the last year figures are available.

DeSantis’s efforts to exclude migrants may hurt Florida more than the boycott. Will the tourism industry have the staff it needs for hotels and restaurants? Will the agricultural industry have enough laborers to pick crops?

DeSantis’s war on teaching accurate, factual history about American history, his demands for book banning, and his support for vouchers for every student in the state, even those already in private schools, degrades education and intelligence in Florida.

DeSantis is running on a platform of hate, bigotry, and disunity. Let’s see how that plays.

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.

Florida is the state where freedom goes to die.

Since Governor Ron DeSantis was re-elected, he has been using the powers of his office to punish anyone who dares to criticize him. He fired an elected state prosecutor. He has harassed Disney, the state’s largest employer, for daring to oppose his “Don’t Say Gay” law. He has taken over the state’s only progressive college and handed it over to far-right zealots. He has banned the teaching of honest history, most especially Black history. Under his control, the state Department of Education censors textbooks that include facts he doesn’t like. Under his direction, the state board of education is whittling away the tenure and academic freedom of professors. He is replacing competent college presidents of public colleges and universities with his cronies. During the height of the pandemic, he banned any mandates for masks or vaccines. Now he is going after the elected superintendent of Leon County schools.

We have never before seen, at least in our lifetimes, a state attempt to enact fascism, day by day, week by week. I refuse to accept DeSantis’ dictatorial ways as normal. They are not normal. He personally gerrymandered the state, eliminating three of four Black members of Congress. The list of his anti-democratic actions should alarm everyone. He should turn all of us anti-fascist. The “Greatest Generation” fought a world war to defeat fascism. We must not ignore what is happening or normalize it, as the media does when they discuss DeSantis’ presidential aspirations. All I can do is shine a light. It’s up to the voters in Florida and in the GOP primaries to reject this wannabe Mussolini.

Florida officials are threatening to revoke the teaching license of a school superintendent who criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis, accusing the educator of violating several statutes and DeSantis directives and allowing his “personal political views” to guide his leadership.

Such a revocation by the state Department of Education could allow DeSantis to remove Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna from his elected office. The Republican governor did that last year to an elected Democratic prosecutor in the Tampa Bay area who disagreed with his positions limiting abortion and medical care for transgender teens and indicated he might not enforce new laws in those areas.

Disney also sued DeSantis this week, saying he targeted its Orlando theme parks for retribution after it criticized the governor’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that then banned the discussion of sexuality and gender in early grades, but has since been expanded.

Hanna has publicly opposed that law, once defied the governor’s order that barred any mandate that students wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and criticized a DeSantis-backed bill that recently passed that will pay for students to attend private school. The Leon County district, with about 30,000 students, covers Tallahassee, the state capital, and its suburbs.

“It’s a sad day for democracy in Florida, and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, when a state agency with unlimited power and resources, can target a local elected official in such a biased fashion,” Hanna said in a statement sent to The Associated Press and other media Thursday. A Democrat then running as an independent, Hanna was elected to a second four-year term in 2020 with 60% of the vote. He plans to run for reelection next year and does not need a teacher’s license to hold the job.

“This investigation has nothing to do with these spurious allegations, but rather everything to do with attempting to silence myself and anyone else who speaks up for teachers and our public schools in a way that does not fit the political narrative of those in power,” Hanna said.

He said the investigation was spurred by a single complaint from a leader of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a conservative education group, requesting his removal.

Like many other states, New Hampshire passed a law forbidding the teaching of “divisive concepts” or anything that might make students “uncomfortable.” Such laws ban teaching truthfully and direct teachers to engage in self-censorship. Teachers who dare to violate these ridiculous laws risk being fired and losing their teaching license. Such laws are, in fact, shameful and an insult to freedom of inquiry, the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn. Petty tyrants suppress knowledge.

This article was written by Gary Rayno,’s State House Bureau Chief.

History is a funny thing.

For example, two communities claim to be the birthplace of the Republican Party, Exeter, New Hampshire and Ripon, Wisconsin.

Around here Exeter is thought to be the holy place, but almost everywhere else in the country — including Wikipedia — believe it was Wisconsin.

No one disagrees its founding was in opposition to slavery, but where it started, well even Jackson, Michigan was thought to be the birthplace for a long time. So, it is anyone’s guess just where the Grand Old Party first emerged.

And the founding place for Aerosmith, which is about to begin its final tour, is also contested.

The Boston Globe and all things Boston, claim the band was formed in the city’s Allston neighborhood.

But a case can be made that the band really formed at the Barn in Georges Mills, a section of Sunapee, and not in Boston.

Two bands played the Barn in the summers of 1968 and 69 and various other places around the Lake Sunapee region, the Jam Band and Just in Time.

Tom Hamilton and Joe Perry were in the Jam Band and Steve Tyler, Joey Kramer and Ray Tabano were in the other band.

They all moved to Boston in 1970 with the idea of making it big with Tabano being replaced by Brad Whitcomb.

But they all played together here and there in Sunapee before moving to Boston.

While the origins may be contested, people in Exeter, Ripon, Sunapee or Boston still feel pride about their place in history.

But some people may not feel pride, they may be embarrassed by the notoriety.

Aerosmith may be one of the greatest American bands selling millions of records and selling out stadiums around the world.

But their lifestyle may not be what you would want your child to experience as some of the members spent considerable time in rehab.

The same could be said about the Republican Party today as it is not the party of 50 years ago and has changed considerably since its founding as an anti-slavery organization.

Several state agencies work together to put up historical markers touting some bit of the state’s history or recognizing state residents who went on to do great things.

I don’t believe there are any historical markers for Aerosmith, but there is a historical marker in Exeter in front of what once was the tavern thought to be the birthplace of the Grand Old Party.

On Route 3A in Bow is a historical marker noting the birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, an author and religious leader who founded the Church of Christ, Science in 1879, and the Christian Science Monitor and several other publications.

While Christian Science is a well-known religion, some find its teachings controversial.

But the marker remains near the home of her birth.

In Boscawen there is a historical marker and a monument to Hannah Dustin, a woman who was captured by Native Americans in Haverhill, Massachusetts and taken north to an island in the Merrimack River. At night she killed 10 Native Americans and scalped them and freed two others who were captive.

While there were few questions asked years ago about the monument, now it is considered controversial.

There are numerous other monuments to Native Americans and settlers’ interactions, often not for the best, around the state.

In Canaan there is a historical marker for Noyes Academy, the first co-ed academy for black students.

But it was not long before the outraged local citizens forced the black students to leave and dragged the academy building down Canaan Street to the middle of town.

However, a number of the students went on to be black leaders including Henry Highland Garnet, who was the first African American to preach in Congress.

A new historical marker installed in Concord will be removed because of concerns raised by two Executive Councilors, Joe Kenney of Wakefield and David Wheeler of Milford, and backed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The marker honors Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, “The Rebel Girl,” who was born in Concord in 1890, and went on to be a noted union organizer, women’s rights activist and a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union.

What could be the problem with any of those three accomplishments?

Well, the issue that had councilors upset was she was a member of the Communist Party.

“Wonderful, we are recognizing and honoring someone who joined the Communist Party and died a Soviet,” Kenney wrote in an email to the council. “The same Soviets I fought against during the Cold War with patriotic Americans. This is Crap!”

At the council meeting last week, he called her “Unamerican” and a “Communist.”

During her heyday, many unionists were members of the Communist Party as the polar opposite of capitalism. Many artists and musicians were also members, but as folk singer Dave Van Ronk used to say “communist with a little ‘c.’”

Flynn was convicted in 1951 under the Smith Act which made it illegal to be a member of the Communist Party and jailed for 28 months.

Flynn went to the Soviet Union where she died and is buried.

“One thing I am doing right now is review who does have the final say, the authority when it comes to state markers on state lands and all of that. So we will review that whole process,” Sununu told reporters after the Executive Council meeting. “I don’t know whether it is the council that should have the final say or view or anything like that. It is something we can definitely talk about. But we are going to look at the process internally.”

So now deciding on which historical markers will be a political decision?

Flynn was a controversial figure but so was Mary Baker Eddy and the Noyes Academy certainly is not New Hampshire’s best foot forward.

History is not always comfortable, and really shouldn’t be.

Scalping Native Americans is not a comfortable notion, neither is intimidating young black students, nor is the work Flynn spent her life doing to uplift, particularly textile workers in the mills of New England and around the country.

History should reflect what happened, not what we wished happened or what we want to hide from our children.

That is what is so troubling about the divisive concepts law passed two years ago and the rush to ban books someone doesn’t agree with for whatever reason.

If we cannot be honest about our history and what was and was not done, we cannot learn from it, and we will keep repeating it and repeating it.

History should not be Groundhog’s Day.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.