If we’re making them go back to work, NC should join growing list of states to vaccinate teachers

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[This post has been updated — see below.]

The New York Times reported this morning that 24 states plus Washington, DC are making COVID-19 vaccinations available to teachers. Unfortunately, North Carolina is not on the list.

The report comes at the same time that many North Carolina school districts, at the urging of Gov. Cooper and other state leaders, are moving to reopen schools.

The confluence of these two developments simply doesn’t make any sense.

While it’s certainly a top priority to reopen schools, it’s not going to work well if many teachers are too frightened to come back. And if the move ends up causing some teachers to get sick and die — something that’s a distinct possibility — then the reopening will not be just premature, but a disaster.

As veteran Mecklenburg educator Justin Parmenter wrote in an insightful recent op-ed for Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“…for many local educators, returning to in-person learning at a time of double digit positivity rates without being vaccinated first is a risk they’d prefer not to take.”

The Times story reports that Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, which has been vaccinating teachers for a while now, put it this way:

“For every teacher who is back in the classroom, they help 20, 30, 35 students get their lives back on track.” They help ensure 20, 30, 35 kids have access to mental health support. They make sure 20, 30, 35 kids get breakfast and lunch several days a week. And they allow families to know their children are in good hands when they go to work.”

None of this is to imply that decisions in this area are easy.

Anyone paying attention understands that the Cooper administration is in an almost impossible position as it struggles to respond to loud, competing and often mutually exclusive demands. Everyone wants to be vaccinated quickly at a time when a coherent national plan is just getting implemented by the new administration in Washington and vaccine supplies remain frustratingly low. Meanwhile, thousands of children and parents struggle mightily with the inadequacies of remote education.

But as is the case in so many other aspects of the pandemic, neither hope, wishes, nor sheer force of will can make things better. It’s true that there have been some encouraging data about the COVID-19 transmission rates in schools, but that fact will come as cold comfort to the handful of individuals who will lose their health as a result of reopening. What’s more, much of this research was conducted prior to the arrival of the new more contagious virus variants. Add to this the fact that so many aspects of normal, in-person schooling are impossible with masks and social distancing and the urgency of reopening is further called into question.

The bottom line: Teachers want to go back to work, but under safe conditions. North Carolina should join the growing list of states that are making that possible.

[UPDATE: The Public School Forum of North Carolina issued a fact sheet today calling for the vaccination of teachers that read in part:

“We understand the desire to increase the number of students who have access to in-person learning opportunities in the coming weeks. In order to reopen all public school buildings safely — and for the health and safety of those who are already working and learning in school buildings that have reopened —  we must ensure that all educators and school personnel have prioritized access to COVID-19 vaccines, along with PPE, social distancing, cleaning supplies, ventilation, and student health checks, to ensure the safety of our educators and students. North Carolina has administered over 1,000,000 doses of the vaccine, and the total number of teachers and other school personnel represents less than 20% of that amount. North Carolina can do this expediently.”

Click here to read the full statement.]

Interactive report maps the impact of raising the minimum wage by congressional district

A new report from the Washington, DC-based Economic Policy Institute shows the impact of raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 in tremendous detail — perhaps most notably by congressional district (as well as age, gender, and race and ethnicity).

This is from the report:

The federal minimum hourly wage is just $7.25 and has not increased since 2009. The Raise the Wage Act of 2021, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 26, 2021, would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. EPI research shows that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would lift pay for nearly 32 million workers across the country—that’s 21% of the U.S. workforce. The increases would provide an additional $107 billion in wages for the country’s lowest-paid workers, with the average affected worker who works year-round receiving an extra $3,300 a year.

The report includes a U.S. map that one can hover over and select any congressional district to see the impact of raising the wage. In North Carolina, EPI reports that between 26% of the workforce (the figure for the 4th congressional district) and 38% (the estimated share in the 1st, 3rd and 7th) would benefit. All told, the researchers find that 1.51 million North Carolina workers would benefit and see their annual wages rise by between $3,800 and $4,200 per year. The total annual wage increase for North Carolina workers would amount to $6.138 billion.

Click here to explore the report.

Charlotte Observer editorial: Cawthorn is an embarrassment to NC

Not that it contains many surprises to anyone paying attention, but the Charlotte Observer has posted an excellent editorial detailing and decrying the embarrassing actions of western North Carolina’s new freshman congressman, Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

As highlighted in this space last week, Cawthorn is clearly a troubled, in-over-his-head character prone to making embarrassingly untrue public statements — a fact that has led many people to call for his resignation.

This is from the Observer editorial:

Can someone please keep Madison Cawthorn away from the cameras? And the microphones? And really, most situations in which he publicly tries to turn words into meaningful thoughts?

The first-term, District 11 U.S. House member has been an embarrassment to the institution, to his party, and to his state.

The editorial then goes on to spell out some of Cawthorn’s most outrageous and cringe-inducing behavior — from helping to spur on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, to making wild, false and pathetically uninformed claims about elections laws on national TV, to misleading voters about his own personal background, to having admitted to having constructed his congressional staff “around comms rather than legislation.”

As the editorial further laments:

Cawthorn’s strategy for these kinds of mishaps? It’s apparently to keep doing interviews, which results in more head-shaking headlines and national ridicule. It’s why the North Carolina freshman is on the medal stand for worst new member of Congress. It’s also why at least one prominent supporter has expressed regret, and why Republicans are surely not looking forward to two years of cringing.

Let’s hope, as the editorial urges in conclusion, that the people who created this ridiculous monster — Republican gerrymanderers at the General Assembly — wake up and figure out a way make his political career a very short one.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Editorial: Latest from Burr and Tillis on impeachment is “weak stuff from weak-kneed senators”

Be sure to check out the latest editorial from Raleigh’s News & Observer. In “The weak reasons Sens. Tillis and Burr are meek about impeachment,” the N&O tells it exactly like it is in dissecting the decision of North Carolina’s two GOP senator to throw in with 43 other Trump loyalists in a test vote on whether the impending impeachment trial should even take place.

After noting that both men issued strong statements in the immediate aftermath of the deadly U.S. Capitol invasion by Trump loyalists, it points out that now, sadly, “the senators’ righteousness of Jan. 6 has dissipated like yesterday’s tear gas”:

This is weak stuff from weak-kneed senators. Virtually all impeachments of presidents and other federal office holders – some of whom had left office – have involved a trial. Why would this case, based the most serious of impeachment charges, not merit a full hearing and vote by the Senate? It’s one thing to vote to acquit Trump after a trial. It’s an abdication of duty to say the American people should not even hear the evidence.

Tillis, whose subservience to Trump has been embarrassing both for him and North Carolina, offered a reason for opposing the trial that was exceptionally woolly headed. He said an impeachment vote could set up a party-line vote to disqualify Trump from ever running for office. That, he said, would be the same as Republicans barring Hillary Clinton from running because she used a private email server while she was secretary of state.

According to Tillis’ judgment, Clinton’s failure to protect the security of her email is on the same plane as a president refusing to accept the outcome of an election and urging his supporters to swarm Capitol Hill and “fight like hell” to stop Congress from certifying the election. In the riot that followed, several people died.

The editorial is little kinder to Burr, who it notes, voted to impeach President Bill Clinton back in 1998 over the truthfulness of his statements to a grand jury about consensual sex between two adults.

And after noting that both men have an opportunity to set politics aside and do the right things given that Burr is retiring soon and Tillis won’t face voters again until 2026, it concludes this way:

But Burr and Tillis have passed on the opportunity – an opportunity five other Republican senators accepted – to show a measure of independence and support a hearing of the facts. They voted that there should be no trial for Trump and in so doing they failed their own.

All in all, it’s enough to make one conclude that Trump was right when he infamously bragged that he could shoot someone in the street without jeopardizing the support he receives from his loyal lackeys.

Pandemic profiteers: Report highlights stunning recent wealth growth of U.S. billionaires

A new report from analysts at the Institute for Policy Studies finds that the collective financial gain of 660 billionaires during the COVID crisis could pay for all of the working family relief in President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response plan.

Here are some excerpts:

The combined fortune of the nation’s 660 billionaires as of Monday, January 18, 2021 was $4.1 trillion, up 38.6% from their collective net worth of just under $3 trillion on March 18, 2020, the rough start of the pandemic, based on Forbes data compiled in this report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF). There have been 46 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were 614.

At $4.1 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans….

The $1.1 trillion wealth gain by 660 U.S. billionaires since March 2020 could pay for:

  • All of the relief for working families contained in President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue package, which includes $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, $400-a-week supplements to unemployment benefits, and an expanded child tax credit.
  • A stimulus check of more than $3,400 for every one of the roughly 331 million people in the United States. A family of four would receive over $13,000. Republicans in Congress resisted sending families stimulus checks most of last year, claiming we couldn’t afford them.

Meanwhile, the report notes, “ordinary Americans have not fared as well as billionaires during the pandemic.” As it points out: Read more