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JULY 31, 2023
Kuttner on TAP
The War on Libraries
Far-right state governments fear allowing children to think for themselves.
Houston is a city with a diverse, progressive electorate and an African American mayor, Sylvester Turner. So it was bizarre when the new superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, Mike Miles, recently announced plans to fire librarians at dozens of schools, while converting libraries into discipline rooms for misbehaving students. The repurposed libraries will be called “Team Centers” where closely monitored students join their classes by zoom.

Librarian positions are being initially eliminated at 28 schools as part of Miles’ New Education System (NES), which includes mandated lesson plans for teachers, classroom cameras for discipline, and testing-based performance evaluations that affect teacher pay. The libraries at those schools will stay partly open, but schools will weed out objectionable books. The district, largest in Texas, serves 189,000 students.

How could this have happened in progressive Houston? If you made a wild guess that the state administration of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott used a ploy to take over the local school system, you guessed right. The ACLU is looking into a suit.

Miles was appointed Houston school superintendent on June 1 by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who also replaced the district's nine elected trustees with a state-appointed board of managers, alleging mismanagement and “failing” schools. The plan, which takes effect in the coming school year, also includes elimination of 2,347 school jobs, and more cuts in libraries.

The Houston takeover is part of two far-right patterns in which neo-fascist administrations try to compensate for the fact that they are losing public opinion by destroying democracy and imposing thought control. Demonizing libraries is one part of the scheme. Using state pre-emption to override local city governments is another.

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law due to take effect August 1, which allows criminal prosecutions against librarians and booksellers for allegedly providing “harmful” materials to minors. For now, in response to a suit brought by the Little Rock library system, the ACLU, and others, US District Court Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued an injunction blocking the law from taking effect.

But this case, and others like it, will eventually get to the Supreme Court, another center of far-right takeover; and good luck to that. Laws restricting access to certain materials, such as those with LGBTQ themes, or allowing court challenges to them, have been enacted in several other states, including Iowa, Indiana and Texas.

Meanwhile, right-wing state governments are becoming more flagrant and cynical in their use of state pre-emption to block progressives from using home rule, in areas as far-flung as minimum wage ordinances, paid sick leave, gun control, climate initiatives, and rent control. Some of this state pre-emption, driven by corporate lobbyists, has occurred in relatively liberal states.

Massachusetts, for instance, goes beyond federal law with paid sick leave, but has blocked localities from banning natural gas hookups on new construction, a long-sought climate goal to promote the shift from fossil fuels to electricity. More right-wing state governments have blocked a broad range of city climate laws, including limits on plastic bags, pesticides, and fracking.

I recently wrote a piece pointing out that the efforts by rightwing state governments to hunt down women who cross state lines to seek abortion feels increasingly like the 1850s, the era of the Fugitive Slave Act, the Underground Railroad, and eventually the Civil War.

But our uncivil wars between states and cities goes deeper than that. And like the runup to 1860, when slave states and their allies in the federal courts protected slavery by crushing democracy, this struggle will either end with the victory of democracy on all fronts or its defeat.

A Sick System
The business of health care in America is deeply out of whack. BY DAVID DAYEN & MAUREEN TKACIK
My Life in Corporate Medicine
Meet a millennial family physician who is also a one-woman antidote to private equity and the forces that have destroyed compassionate treatment for patients. BY STEPHANIE ARNOLD & MAUREEN TKACIK
Shock Treatment in the Emergency Room
The Lehman-like collapse of a(nother) private equity–owned ER operator has physicians calling louder than ever for a strike. BY MAUREEN TKACIK
Ford Says Electric Cars Just Aren’t Affordable
What it doesn’t say is that the potential buying public is badly underpaid. BY HAROLD MEYERSON
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