Disappearing Americans, DeSantis' Dystopia: FL Doctors May Now Deny Treating Anyone, Couple Attacked Over Bud Light, Senator Okays White Supremacists, Censoring Racism in Kids Books, Miles Davis Plays
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
Quick announcement: Our little Substack newsletter has been nominated five times for this year’s 65th Annual SoCal Journalism Awards. The categories include Columnist of the Year, Political Commentary, twice in Non-Political Commentary, and Entertainment Commentary. Thanks to you readers for making this all possible.
The Strange Case of the Disappearing Americans
The Guardian recently reported that a teacher in Florida is allegedly being investigated for showing the Disney animated film Strange World. A letter from Florida’s Department of Education stated, “following receipt of a receipt of a complaint, this office has determined an investigation is warranted into allegations that you engaged in inappropriate conduct.” (I’m a little concerned that the Department of Education awkwardly repeated receipt. I demand an investigation!) The conduct that was inappropriate was showing a movie that had a prominent gay character.
First, context: the teacher’s friend tweeted, “She has signed permission from every parent in the classroom to show Disney & Dreamworks movies in class, even offering lines to specify specific movies parents didn’t want shown. Not one exception was written down, so no she didn’t break the law.” However, one parent did object after the showing, and so the investigation.
But this writing is not a declaration of outrage over Florida’s unconstitutional banning of books that mention gays, civil rights, and that slavery was bad, nor is it a declaration of outrage about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ eagerness to burn down America in order to rebuild it in his own smug White Christian likeness.
This is about the unholy dark magic of DeSantis and his GOP clones across the country. While they use one hand to misdirect the giddy audience—their thirsty-for-enemies base—with unsubstantiated claims of grooming, they use the other hand to do their real magic: make the already marginalized finally disappear altogether.
When you outlaw showing a kids movie because it has a gay character, you’re no longer talking about individuals grooming or “confusing” children, you’re saying that their mere existence in "your” world is a bad influence. That when a child sees a gay character—especially one who is accepted by society—that is enough to turn them gay. Or make them empathetic to LGBTQ+ people. By not allowing them to be seen or read about or discussed, you are pronouncing them as non-existent. And, as we know, that which doesn’t exist has no value.
In his classic 1952 novel, Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison addresses the struggles for Black identity through an unnamed Black narrator, unnamed because in some ways he doesn’t exist outside how the White world perceives him: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
In The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois expresses this same idea: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
Many marginalized groups—not just Blacks and LGBTQ+—are in danger of disappearing. I say disappear rather than become invisible because they all were visible at one time—remember Women’s Rights rallies, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ Marches—but there is a concerted effort to disappear them (yes, I know I’m using it as a verb). Women, the elderly, the young, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, the homeless, the poor. As more of their rights are being strangled, they become inconsequential husks, cardboard props on the set of that nostalgic black-and-white classic, Leave It to Republicans. They want to restrict voting among those groups to take away their voice and autonomy, while passing child labor laws for cheaper labor, and laws to erect religious icons like the Ten Commandments in public schools to codify their beliefs as government approved. Everything we spent the last two hundred years fighting against.
The celebration of more people carrying guns with fewer restrictions—as in Florida and Texas—isn’t really about the Second Amendment, as I stated last week, it’s about intimidation. The numbers reveal this more insidious agenda. A 2020 Gallup poll found that 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, 25% identified as Republicans, and 41% as Independent. Among those Independents, 50% are either “Democrats or Democratic leaners” and 39% are either “Republicans or Republican leaners.” That puts the Democrats ahead in numbers. But when some volatile conservatives brag about their guns and willingness to use them (especially on threatening beer cans), there is an implication that they will use them if they don’t get their way. This was emphasized in the last election when armed people lurked around voting booths (“Masked Poll Watchers Are Showing Up at Voting Sites With Handguns and Kevlar Vests”).
All these bans and restrictions are important to address. But we can’t lose sight of the bigger plan to replace our democracy with a non-functioning lookalike dud. These right-wing conservatives are like brood parasite birds—of which there are about 100 species—that place their eggs in another bird’s nest so the others will raise their young. When those young hatch, some of them immediately kill the other young in the nest. Like those birds, they shout and bluster and cry about freedom, the flag, traditional values, all the while devouring those very things. But other birds have evolved to fight back, either by changing their appearance to look more formidable or by constructing their nests to keep parasitic birds out.
We can do no less. The best way for us to evolve to protect our democratic nest is to fight back on every front, no matter how small it may appear, no matter how few the numbers of those who are being attacked. We need to heed the motto of the Three Musketeers: “All for one and one for all.”
No one disappears on our watch. As Billie Holiday sang: “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.”
DeSantis’ Dystopia: Florida Sinks Even Deeper into the Moral Swamp
Some in the media are reporting that Ron DeSantis is about to officially announce his run for the presidency. We’ve been tracking how he’s already turned Florida into a dystopia of racism, misogyny, restricted free speech, and lowered educational standards. Basically, where the American ideals of justice and equal opportunity go to die. But he’s not done yet savaging the state.
It’s Now Legal in Florida for Doctors to Deny Health Care to Anyone If They Feel Like It (The New Republic)
SUMMARY: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill on Thursday that will allow doctors and health insurance companies to deny care to anyone they want.
Under the new law, “a health care provider or health payor has the right to opt out of participation in or payment for any health care service on the basis of a conscience-based objection,” meaning based on their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.
Providers and insurers will face no consequences under the measure and will not be required to refer patients to a place that would provide the needed care. If they are penalized for denying care or coverage, the doctor or company can sue.
The law makes no mention of protections against gender- or race-based discrimination, leading opponents to rightly worry that the sweeping nature of the text will let providers deny care or coverage to women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. A doctor could deny care, for instance, if they are “morally opposed” to gender-affirming care, or if they don’t like that a patient is having premarital sex. And it’s not just doctors—under the law, insurance companies, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, ambulances, and more could all also deny care.
MY TAKE: To me, the health care system should work like the judicial system. If you’re accused of a crime and can’t afford a lawyer, we provide you with an attorney. If you are sick or injured and can’t afford a doctor, we provide you with medical treatment. This bill is worse. It allows doctors and insurance companies to refuse service if they don’t like your medical condition, your politics, your gender identity, your race, or the cut of your jib. If someone collapses on the ground in front of you, you don’t quiz them on their voting record, you help them.
Some professions are so vital to the foundation of our society that they are governed not just by regulatory laws, but by an ethical oath. The Hippocratic Oath of “First, do no harm” is directly violated by the harm caused by not treating someone. Doctors and insurance companies should not be the moral gatekeepers of society.
I have always appreciated that America strives to be better, more humane, and more inclusive. This is a giant step backward in the state where backwards is their main direction.
DeSantis signs bill blocking state travel records from public disclosure (CNN)
SUMMARY: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law Thursday that exempts records related to his travel from the state’s robust public disclosure law.
Under the new law, law enforcement agencies would be barred from sharing any records related to the governor’s security and travel, as well as “for persons for whom such services are requested by the governor.” The expansive language could allow the DeSantis administration to keep secret trips arranged by the governor’s office even when he wasn’t involved.
The law comes on the heels of the governor’s recent trips to key primary states and Israel, and critics have slammed the legislation as an attempt to keep damaging information about DeSantis’ travel from getting out just as he is expected to announce a campaign for president.
SUMMARY: Secret trips for DeSantis and his cronies? No records made public of who, where, or how much? The excuse is security—as common and disingenuous as “It’s not you, it’s me.” The Republican-dominated Florida legislature already passed a measure allowing DeSantis to remain governor if he runs for president (“Florida bill allows DeSantis to run for president while governor”). They have passed pretty much everything he asked for to better position him for president. But this particular bill allows him to use even more Florida money for his campaign without anyone being aware.
Sometimes I sit and ponder what it must be like to be a Floridian knowing you have one of the most anti-American, anti-rational thinking governors in the country. And he wants to be president. Do they feel any shame or fear? I hope so.
Kareem’s Video Break
This one is very short, but adorable. And it’s proof that the joy is in the doing, not the final product.
“Hey, Kareem, you were just nominated for five journalism awards. What are you gonna do now?” I’m going to write the next newsletter.
This Week in Dumb Political Statements
Senator on White Extremists in Military: ‘I Call Them Americans’ (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville is skeptical that white nationalists are in the U.S. military. If they are, he seems to think it’s unfair that Democrats are trying to push them out. While the Biden Administration calls them white supremacists, “I call them Americans,” said the Republican Senator in an interview with WBHM Monday. “We are losing in the military so fast,” Tuberville said. “And why? I’ll tell you why, because the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists, people that don’t believe in our agenda, as Joe Biden’s agenda.” The senator’s office issued a statement to AL.com Wednesday clarifying that Tuberville was merely “being skeptical of the notion that there are white nationalists in the military, not that he believes they should be in the military.” But Tuberville appears to oppose the removal of any ideological groups. “We cannot start putting rules in there for one type, one group and make different factions in the military,” he said.
MY TAKE: Part of the problem is that Sen. Tuberville is so inarticulate that it’s difficult to fully understand what he’s saying. But the one thing that comes through pretty clearly is that “the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists, people that don’t believe in our agenda, as Joe Biden’s agenda.” Also, that he calls white supremacists “Americans,” implying they are patriots.
The wonderful British word “gobsmacked” was invented for “thinkers” like Tuberville. First, the white supremacist agenda promotes the segregation of Blacks and other ethnic groups that it determines are inferior, the promotion of a Christian nation (which, if they actually read the Bible, they’d realize is the opposite of racism), and the use of violence to achieve their goals. All of that is the definition of anti-American because it’s anti-Constitution. They are Americans by geography, not by belief.
Second, we actually don’t want white supremacists and white nationalists in the military because we are then training them in weaponry and tactics to use against the country. Despite Tuberville’s assurances, at least 81 of the 700 insurrectionists that attacked the Capitol Building on January 6 were military veterans or currently in the military. Would the senator be so forgiving of members of the military who were avowed Communists, transgender people, or others he thinks are unfit?
RELATED: Sen. Tuberville blocking military nominees turns them into 'political pawns': former Defense secretaries (USA Today)
SUMMARY: A group of former Pentagon officials urged Senate leadership Thursday to take action on the nearly 200 military nominees who are waiting to be confirmed, warning the holds harm military readiness and risk damaging U.S. national security.
The letter, addressed to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., follows Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama blocking promotions in protest of the Pentagon's abortion policy. The policy provides leave and covers expenses of service members who travel for abortions.
Seven former Defense secretaries said in the letter the hold on nominations prevents key leaders from senior command and staff positions worldwide.
MY TAKE: While his statements about white supremacists reveal his complete lack of understanding of the term, his actions holding up military promotions are a clear and present danger to the country. He doesn’t like abortions, so he’ll put our military readiness and the defense of the country at risk. Alabama elected him, but the rest of the country suffers.
Kareem’s Short Takes
Couple Suspected of Buying Bud Light Assaulted, Police Say (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: Three suspects allegedly assaulted an Ontario couple who was suspected of buying Bud Light Saturday night. According to a press release from local police, the couple was leaving a liquor store when three men approached them and started hurling homophobic insults. “One of the suspects commented on the male victim’s choice of alcohol and uttered anti-homosexual derogatory slurs as he approached the victim,” police say. “The female victim stepped between them and was then assaulted.” Then, the other two suspects got involved, assaulting both victims and knocking the man to the ground before fleeing, police added. It’s the latest tale in the ridiculous saga of Bud Light and parent brewer Anheuser-Busch, which has been subject to conservative outrage for weeks after the beer brand’s now-defunct partnership with a trans social media influencer. As it turns out, the Canadian couple didn’t even purchase Bud Light that night—it was another beer brand altogether. “He actually didn’t have Bud Light,” a police spokesperson said. “I guess there were some rainbow colors on the cans and so it was initiated that way… Then upon further determination as to what they purchased, they still weren’t happy with that. Let’s just put it that way.”
MY TAKE: This is what happens when celebrities misuse their platform by encouraging marginalization. We’ve seen the formula so many times throughout history: those seeking political power isolate a group (or groups) that are small and are historically marginalized, then unleash invective, lies, and scare tactics to whip up those incapable of independent thought or reason. Then they ride that tidal wave of hate into powerful positions while the sad, mindless masses they encouraged remain in their cramped cubicles of thought.
When Kid Rock took a gun to Bud Light cans to protest the company aligning with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney, in the minds of many, he associated violence with the entire LGBTQ+ community. He may say he was just shooting at cans, but that further reveals how removed he is from the reality of the influence fame has on many people. If a celebrity endorsing a product can increase sales, then surely a celebrity endorsing hate can increase violence. Country musicians Travis Tritt and John Rich joined in announcing publicly their rejection of Bud Light. Finally, Bud Light—much to their everlasting shame and I hope long-lasting boycott—caved by sidelining the execs who reached out to Dylan Mulvaney.
This kind of hate-stirring reminds me of the number of Sikhs who, because they wore turbans, were attacked and killed in the U.S. because they were mistaken for Muslims (totally different religion, folks). I also remember when a bookstore named Isis (after the Egyptian goddess of family, healing, and magic) was vandalized because the geniuses who attacked it thought it referred to the terrorist organization ISIS, even though the bookstore had been around for 35 years. Clearly, the vandals were not patrons of bookstores.
It’s just a can of beer—until it is used to rabble-rouse political zombies into violence.
Asked to Delete References to Racism From Her Book, an Author Refused (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: It was the most personal story that Maggie Tokuda-Hall had ever written: the tale of how her grandparents met and fell in love at an incarceration camp in Idaho that held Japanese Americans during World War II.
The book, called “Love in the Library,” is aimed at 6- to 9-year-olds. Published last year by a small children’s publisher, Candlewick Press, it drew glowing reviews, but sales were modest. So Tokuda-Hall was thrilled when Scholastic, a publishing giant that distributes books and resources in 90 percent of schools, said last month it wanted to license her book for use in classrooms.
When Tokuda-Hall read the details of the offer, she felt deflated — then outraged. Scholastic wanted her to delete references to racism in America from her author’s note, in which she addresses readers directly. The decision was wrenching, Tokuda-Hall said, but she turned Scholastic down and went public, describing her predicament in a blog post and a Twitter post that drew more than five million views.
Tokuda-Hall’s revelations sparked an outcry among children’s book authors and brought intense scrutiny to the editorial process of the world’s largest children’s publisher. The blowup came at a time when culture wars are fueling efforts to ban books in schools — particularly books on race or sexuality — and raising questions about whether already published works should be re-edited to remove potentially offensive content.
MY TAKE: First, we had publishers wanting to rewrite classic literature by removing what we consider offensive language (“Changes to new editions of Roald Dahl books have readers up in arms”). Now we have publishers trying to censor writers to pander to the book-banning crowd, many of whom probably don’t read books anyway.
The conservative school of thought is that young kids—in this case ages 6 to 9—are too young to understand the complexities of racism. But many kids that same age face racist remarks and behavior from other kids their age. The kids aren’t yet racist, but they are reflecting the racist behavior they see around them. Certainly, if we let them see the intolerance to racism and the acceptance of diverse people, they can reflect that instead. When publishers try to silence those voices promoting empathy, they are by default encouraging—for sales—the racism they claim to abhor.
What Kareem Is Watching
The Diplomat (Netflix)
If you’ve been jonesing for The West Wing’s potent combination of wit, intelligence, suspense, and political intrigue, you’re going to be delighted with Netflix’s The Diplomat. Keri Russell (The Americans) plays a newly appointed ambassador to the UK who is immediately embroiled in an international crisis that could lead to a world war.
I love everything about the show. The plot is serpentine enough to always be surprising, the dialogue is smart and sharp, and the characters richly developed. I started the first episode worried that it was going to be cloyingly melodramatic, then ended up binging the entire season. I’m just frustrated there aren’t more episodes.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Miles Davis: “So What”
I hope you’re in the mood for some classic jazz from one of the greatest trumpeters and composers in history. I used to listen to Miles on the radio when I was growing up in New York City. Then I wore out album after album until the notes were part of my DNA. Miles was the Mick Jagger of the jazz world: talented, charismatic, intense—and the very essence of cool.
I chose “So What,” which he also composed, because it’s a prime example of the improvisational aspect of jazz built around a specific structure. The song is the first track on his 1959 album Kind of Blue. It’s nine minutes of riffing with intent and a subtle foundation. At first, it makes you want to throw on a trench coat, grab your PI license, and wander the dark, rainy streets in black and white. But then you feel the rhythm tenderizing your flesh and the notes vibrating in your bones like a xylophone.
In a fair world, Kid Rock, Ron DeSantis and Tommy ("I can't beat Bama") Tuberville would all be invisible and that little girl and her dog would play "So What".
Your description of So What is beautiful. The introduction to that piece still sends shivers up my spine. One of the most compelling aspects of the album is that all of the soloists are such fluid conversationalists, all with something different to say, and yet all able to blend together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts.