Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) warned that it was coming, and he wasn't kidding. Because he is mad at the Disney Corporation, the Governor ordered the Florida legislature to pass legislation threatening to take away the Mouse's special quasi-governmental status in the Sunshine State. Whenever DeSantis tells the legislature to do something these days, they do it and then say "Thank you sir, may I have another?" So, they promptly did his bidding. The Governor is expected to sign the bill in the next few days.
There are some tricky elements here, so you'll have to bear with us as we explain them. To start, the legal entity in question is the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), which was created when Disney first moved into Orlando and started buying up land. The state had neither the resources nor the know-how to build the infrastructure needed for a major tourist attraction, so Disney World was granted quasi-governmental status, and allowed to build its own infrastructure (and impose its own taxes). Blurring the lines between "business" and "government" is not a great situation, and someone like David Foster Wallace or Neal Stephenson might have had something to say about it. However, there is general agreement that Disney's RCID has worked out fairly well for all involved.
The reason that Disney is on the hot seat right now is that Florida passed a demagogic law that scapegoats LGBTQ+ people, and Disney's corporate leadership had the temerity to object. Actually, knowing what kind of man DeSantis is, Disney leadership didn't really want to object. However the company's employees were furious, and so a couple of the Disney pooh-bahs, most notably former CEO Bob Iger, offered up mild complaints about the "Don't Say Gay" law. This is their right, consistent with the First Amendment, which protects people's (and corporations') free speech from government encroachment. Perhaps you've heard of it.
Certainly, DeSantis has heard of the First Amendment. After all, he graduated Harvard Law, and it must have come up in class once or twice. He also knows full well that Disney leadership was left with no choice but to say something, and that Iger & Co. kept their remarks about as mild as was possible. However, DeSantis saw yet another opportunity for some performative politics. Not only can he theoretically "own the libs" here, he can do it by striking back at a company that many conservatives really, really hate.
Why? Well, Disney has been somewhat in the vanguard of LGBTQ+ equality, as far as corporations go, becoming among the first businesses to grant health insurance to same-sex couples, and among the first tourist destinations to perform LGBTQ+ weddings. Further, Disney has moved away from the delicate-flower-who-needs-a-man-to-save-her princesses of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and has embraced a more feminist style of heroine. That's wokeness, as far as many conservatives are concerned. Perhaps worst of all, though, is that Disney is headquartered in California. And the type of folks who vote for a Ron DeSantis tend to loathe California, more than any other state. In case there's any doubt on this matter, DeSantis even explained his interest in smacking Disney by declaring "I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state." Subtlety is not his strong point.
Anyhow, the upshot is that Disney's RCID is potentially on the chopping block. Why "potentially"? Well, that's another important nuance here. The law that the legislature passed, and that DeSantis will soon sign, does not actually strip Disney of its privileges. It says they will be stripped unless the legislature renews the RCID. Conveniently, the deadline for that (June 2023) happens to be after the midterm elections. This sends a crystal clear message to the Disney muckety mucks: "Keep your fu**ing mouse shut, if you know what's good for you, and this can all blow over." It couldn't be plainer.
DeSantis is playing with fire here, however, for a number of reasons. Here are three big ones:
Now, DeSantis could not care less about things that harm... well, anyone who is not Ron DeSantis. However, there are some risks here to him, and to his personal political aspirations. The first is that people are going to start noticing that he's a dangerous, dangerous man, more than willing to use his position of power to persecute any person or any company that displeases him. And nobody is safe. Last year, the Governor was ramming special protections for Disney through the legislature. Now, he's launching an assault against them, the single-biggest employer the state.
This behavior is also giving oppo researchers all kinds of material to work with. The Florida gubernatorial election, once the primaries are over, is going to be Ugly with a capital "u." And if and when he runs for president, the Democrats are going to have a field day. They're already working on their messaging, and our guess is they eventually crack the code. For example, the aforementioned Polis is referring to DeSantis as an "authoritarian socialist." Polis can't just use "socialist," because that word has been co-opted by Republicans to mean "crazy, out of control leftist, like 99.8% of the Democratic Party." By adding "authoritarian" in front, Polis is drawing a clear connection between DeSantis and someone like Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez. Will it work? We'll see, but if not, Polis and other Democrats will try, try again.
Finally, it just might occur to some of the folks who enable DeSantis that he is Trump-like in many ways, and one of those ways is his willing to throw whose who serve him under the bus if that fits his needs. Because the Governor has managed to reach the rank of Field Marshal in the culture wars, he's raking in the donations from across the country, and can tell the corporate types to go pound sand. However, the members of the Florida legislature aren't so lucky. If Disney cancels its donations to the sitting legislators, and starts giving that money to their challengers, then a bunch of legislators could find themselves booted out of office.
Of course, none of the Trump sycophants managed to cure themselves of their addiction before it was too late, so maybe DeSantis will have the same good fortune. That said, DeSantis lacks the charisma of Trump, and he hasn't been walking all over his underlings for 40 years the way Trump has. So, maybe not. (Z)
Trump adviser and podcast host Steve Bannon was the first 1/6 Committee witness to be found in contempt, which means he's closer to being put on trial for this offense than any other person. And that's not his only looming legal problem. Most obviously, he was involved in a scheme to defraud Trump supporters. Those folks donated millions to help build a border wall, but all they ended up building was vacation homes for Bannon and his fellow grifters.
Yesterday, two of the four men who led the scam—Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato—were in court to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Kolfage also pleaded guilty to two counts of filing a false tax return and one count of wire fraud in connection with filing a false tax return. They'll be sentenced in September.
There is a fourth defendant, Timothy Shea, who said he was going to plead guilty, but changed his mind and is going to trial. As to Bannon, he got a pardon from Donald Trump, so he's not going to face federal charges on this matter. However, the fraud took place in New York, and the Manhattan DA and New York AG are both looking into filing charges. Now that 50% of the ringleaders have admitted guilt, that surely increases the chance of that happening. Bannon might also be charged in his state of residence, which is something of a mystery, but appears to be California (he owns a home in Laguna Beach). California, as you may know, is full of ambitious Democratic officeholders who might like to be the person that took a key Trump ally down. (Z)
As long as we're on the legal beat, we'll update a story we've already written about a couple of times. It took a few days, but the CDC finally decided that mask mandates for public transit are still a good idea. And so, it asked the Department of Justice to appeal the decision by Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle striking the mandate down. And the DoJ promptly complied.
The DoJ should be in an excellent position to win this one, as legal experts say Mizelle's ruling was of dubious legal merit. Hard to imagine that a judge appointed to the bench with limited legal experience, and no trial experience, and chosen based on her commitment to advancing partisan goals, would issue a shaky decision, but there it is. The law the mask mandate was based upon, the Public Health Service Act of 1944, gives the CDC authority to:
[P]rovide for such inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, destruction of animals or articles found to be so infected or contaminated as to be sources of dangerous infection to human beings, and other measures, as in his judgment may be necessary.
The Biden administration argued that the masks are a form of sanitation. The judge decided that they are not, and that "sanitation" only describes things that actively clean other things. In other words, if the CDC had required everyone to wear a mop on their face, then it probably would have cleared Mizelle's bar.
Meanwhile, although polls show that two-thirds of Americans want to end COVID-19 mitigation measures, a new poll from AP/NORC reveals that 56% want mask mandates to stay in place for transportation, while only 24% want them to go away. If we were people who wrote regularly about politics, we would be confused about what the hell the American people want. Wait. We actually are people who write regularly about politics. And we are confused about what the hell the American people want.
In view of the uncertainty, both in government policy and in public opinion, various cities have spent the week flip-flopping around. For example, Philadelphia dropped its mask mandate, then reinstated it, then dropped it again. Los Angeles dropped its mask mandate for transportation, then quickly put it back in place. Will it still be in effect next week? Your guess is as good as theirs. In any event, presumably the DoJ's appeal will be heard quickly, in hopes of eliminating all of this uncertainty. (Z)
Wrapping up the day's legal blotter, we have a Supreme Court case where the outcome isn't a surprise, but the vote kinda is. Jose Luis Vaello-Madero was born in Puerto Rico, but was living in New York when he suffered a series of strokes, and was awarded monthly SSI (disability) payments. When he moved back to Puerto Rico, the government cut off the payments and clawed back the money they'd already laid out. And so Vaello-Madero sued.
With Brett Kavanaugh writing for the majority, the Court found, 8-1, that Vaello-Madero was out of luck. The only dissenter was Sonia Sotomayor, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico. Undoubtedly, that's just a coincidence. Kavanaugh's argument is that Puerto Ricans don't pay certain taxes (true), and so they're not entitled to certain benefits of taxpaying. He pointed to two previous decisions on this subject, showing that he is, in fact, aware of the doctrine of stare decisis.
There isn't much for us to say here, though we will point out that Americans today generally look down on the imperialists of the late 19th century, who imposed themselves on other nations in the name of the "White Man's Burden." Treating some residents of the U.S., particularly those who literally became a part of the U.S. due to its imperialistic endeavors, as a lesser grade of citizen (can't vote for president, don't have full representation in Congress, etc.), is not a great look and comes off as a wee bit hypocritical. The obvious solution here is to grant statehood, which polls suggest that a majority of Puerto Ricans, want. But don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen. (Z)
Another court has taken a look at New York State's obviously gerrymandered congressional district maps, and another court has deemed them to be obviously, and improperly, gerrymandered. That said, the appellate court was considerably less assertive than the Republican judge who ruled in the first round, and who got the case due to venue shopping. Yesterday's ruling said that while the Congressional map is not OK, the underlying process that New York Democrats used to create it was legal, and also that the state legislative district map is OK.
The matter will now head to the Court of Appeals, which is New York's highest court, and which is expected to quickly hear the case and rule upon it. All of the judges on the high court are Democrats, so if there's anywhere the blue team is going to get the kind of audience they want, then this is it. The state's primaries are currently scheduled for June 28, so time is running out. (Z)
There were quite a few contenders for this "honor" this week. In a week less laden with schadenfreude, Jeanine Pirro's apparently being outed as a lush might have gotten the nod. Or possibly Mark Meadows, who was booted off the North Carolina voter rolls, and who appears to have been registered to vote in damn near half the former states of the Confederacy.
In the end, however, it came down to three finalists. One of those, which generated more messages to the "items" e-mail than any story ever, we're going to hold off and discuss a bit more substantively next week (Preview: A fella who played a big role in the bracket competition has some helpful tips about testicular maintenance). The other two finalists? We're just going to cheat and squeeze both of them in.
And with that intro, let us now discuss Alex Jones. There are few people in the media more reprehensible than he; you could count them with the fingers on one hand, and have perhaps as many as five fingers left over. He's a bigot, of course, and a sexist, and a snake oil salesman. But what really pushes him to the bottom of the barrel is his conspiratorial nonsense, most notably his insistence that Sandy Hook was a false flag operation and that the parents of the dead children involved were making the whole thing up. Losing a child is something no parent should ever have to go through. Losing them to gun violence perpetrated by a random head case is even worse. But then, for Jones to add to that with his loony conspiracies, not only making a mockery of the parents' grief, but also actively encouraging harassment of them (forcing many to change residences, change their legal names, etc.)? Conspiracies that, by the way, he knows full well are a load of crap, but that he also knows he can sell to the rubes? Let us just say that we have a policy of not utilizing people who have suffered death or physical injury for this feature, but if Jones was to be run over by a bus tomorrow, it would put that policy to the test.
He was not hit by a bus, so we don't have to wrestle with that dilemma. However, he did file for bankruptcy, in view
of the judgments against him resulting from lawsuits filed by the Sandy Hook families. And being Alex Jones, he filed
for bankruptcy in a way that appears to be designed to discharge his obligations, but without him actually taking a hit
to his assets. The good news is that the DoJ is
on to him,
and is prepared to make certain that Jones takes it in the teeth, financially. That is certainly cause for some schadenfreude,
and on the day that he is actually forced to surrender his pound of flesh, then it will be time for schadenfreude week. Or maybe
schadenfreude month. What an awful, awful
human being converter of oxygen to carbon dioxide.
Moving along, the second item of the week is also our first official "This Week in Schadenfreude" update. Last week, we targeted CNN+, irritated by yet another media company throwing up some second-rate comment, slapping a plus on it, and then using that to try to shake down fans for a few extra ducats.
As it turns out, it's lucky we got to them last week because, as of this morning, CNN+ is CNN-. Yep, just three weeks after launch, Warner Bros. Discovery pulled the plug. CNN's parent company is to be credited for reading the room, and recognizing that this project wasn't going anywhere, though they would have saved themselves a lot of time and money if they'd figured that out before gearing up and launching in the first place. Anyhow, perhaps this will serve as inspiration to the owners of other media properties that really need to be put out of their misery. We're looking at you TRUTH Social. (Z)
This is going to be pretty brief, and the only entry in the series (thus far) that is not accompanied by a pretty picture. By its nature, a bracket competition invariably leads to the elimination of a few (or more than a few) contenders too early, usually because they have the bad luck to draw a buzzsaw in early rounds.
In the real world—say, in the NCAA Men's Division I basketball tournament, which inspired this exercise—there is little that can be done when this happens. You can't ask teams to play random games, scheduled at the last minute, to satisfy people's curiosity. But we are not so constrained. And so, to that end, we've put together this ballot, which will allow readers to (partially) reanimate some of the corpses left scattered along the road to the championship:
As you will see, based on reader comments, we have brought back to life four candidates per bracket who maybe should have gotten a longer look. In each, one of the four is a "last four out" who never appeared in the original bracket and so was never subjected to a vote. We've also, again based on reader comments, added four folks for whom this will be their first mention of any sort—they weren't in the original bracket, nor were they on any of the "last four out" lists. Finally, we put a write-in field if you think there's someone we should have included, but didn't. Please note that it has to be an individual person; "Canada" is not a valid vote.
We'll have the vote for the winner (loser?) next week. Today's vote will let us rank the rest of the Top 10, outside of the winner of the championship (#1) and the loser of the championship (#2). Recall that the focus is specifically on negative impact on America and American politics, and not just "most horrible person." Oh, and on this particular ballot, you'll vote for FIVE entries (of the 21 possibilities).
As per usual, we appreciate your comments on any particular person(s) you voted for, including why you wrote in a particular person, if you chose to do so. The deadline is next Wednesday at noon PT. (Z & V)