Veteran journalist: Extremism the new norm as GOP aims to purge moderates

It is extremist to claim, in the complete absence of evidence, that the election was stolen.

It is extremist to demand that millions of legal, valid ballots be tossed out by the courts, by state legislators, by Congress or the vice president. It is extremist to claim that those who upheld the election, who abided by the word, letter and spirit of the Constitution, are somehow enemies of the Constitution.

It is extremist to make common cause with people who would take the law into their own hands, who would inflict vigilante mob violence on our elected officials and government. And it is downright obscene to do so in the name of preserving that same Constitution.

It is extremist to acquit the man who set all that in motion, who tried to interfere directly in the peaceful transfer of power, to transform democracy into dictatorship.

It is extremist to then attack those seven Republican senators and ten Republican House members who dared to buck their party, who chose truth and the Constitution over blind loyalty to the man whom I hope will always be the most terrible president in American history, because if we get one worse than Donald Trump the republic may not survive it.

The GOP is not a moderate party attempting to purge its extremist elements and return to the mainstream. For the foreseeable future, it is an extremist party that even now is attempting to hunt down and purge its moderate elements, and by doing so become even more extreme.

In fact, we should face the fact that extremism has become central to the identity of what by habit we incorrectly call “conservatism.” They now define themselves by the chasm that separates them from the mainstream, and extremism is the lever that they use to create that chasm. They don’t fear being “canceled;” they court it, they demand it, and will do and say whatever it takes to earn that status.

Within the party, it is moderation, not extremism, that is viewed with suspicion. It is moderation that must be hunted down and forced to either recant or be evicted, and to even acknowledge extremism as a danger is to side with the media, to admit that yes, we may have gone too far and that the liberals might have a point.

How can you get to “yes” with a movement whose entire identity is wrapped up in the joy of screaming “no?” Read more

Experts and advocates: Let’s make school lunches free permanently

Be sure to check out a brief article on the national food-oriented news website The Counter this morning entitled “The pandemic has made school lunch free for all public school students. Advocates are hoping to make the change permanent.” As journalist H. Claire Brown reports, a growing number of nutrition experts and advocates have concluded that, for a variety of reasons, we should permanently stop charging children — all children — for meals in public schools.

This is from Brown’s story:

“It’s an idea whose time has come,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations at [the School Nutrition Association]. “We’ve had a pilot, we’ve seen it work successfully throughout the pandemic, families have adjusted to the change, and the need now is greater than ever. Once this pandemic passes us, we’re going to continue to face more families struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic, and it’s going to be more important than ever that we make sure children have ready access to healthy school meals.”

The immediate benefits of universal school lunch are obvious: The policy would eliminate school lunch debt, which can prevent students from graduating and send debt collectors after parents. It would ensure that all students can eat breakfast and lunch at school, regardless of whether their families have completed the necessary paperwork. And it would eliminate any stigmas associated with signing up for free or reduced-price meals at school.

Other proponents point out that such an idea has the potential help spur a raft of other improvements to the food distribution system — from combating waste to improving the treatment of food service workers to supporting better farming practices.

Perhaps the most important thing about such a program change, however, would be the long overdue paradigm shift it would represent in our schools. To show you how badly that’s needed, consider that just a few years back, a local conservative think tank published article after article about how — gasp!! — not-so-poor kids were getting free and reduced price school lunches in North Carolina.

This was and is absurd.

As a parent who, while on lunchroom duty at my kid’s school in Raleigh, once watched in horror and embarrassment as an eight year-old was berated for — horrors — forgetting to bring his lunch money for the second day in a row and tossed a dried up PB&J by the people in charge of that school’s program in punishment for his offense, I can attest that the current system is badly flawed.

Simply put: Surely the wealthiest nation in the history of the planet can afford to feed its public school children without forcing kids like that eight year-old (and millions of others like him) to endure unnecessary humiliation and embarrassment.

Carrying the torch: Today’s fight for justice is built on generations of struggle in NC

Horror and heroism often walk side-by-side. For every insurrectionist who attacked the U.S. Capitol last month, many more lifted their voices against racism and police violence in streets across our country. For every leader sowing false doubts about the 2020 results, droves of dedicated election workers tended to an honest vote. Amid every tweet downplaying the ravages of COVID-19, millions of American workers put their lives on the line every day to keep our society afloat.

The past year was hardly the first time the angels and demons of the human spirit have fought for the soul of our country. In this time of trial, it’s all the more vital to take strength from the examples of our forebearers, to remember we are the inheritors of a proud tradition of not taking injustice lying down, and that every right we enjoy emerged from intense struggle.

As we carry on the fight for justice, here are a few reminders of why it matters, and the heroes whose torch we have now in our hands.

The Hamlet Fire and a system of “cheap”

One of the worst workplace disasters in recent North Carolina memory happened in 1991, in the small town of Hamlet, when the Imperial Foods chicken processing plant went up in flames, killing 25 workers who were locked inside. Author Bryant Simon spent years trying to understand how the Hamlet fire happened, and what it reveals what he calls a “system of cheap” — a political and economic system that puts workers’ lives in peril, even in normal times, and becomes even the more deadly during times of crisis like COVID-19.

This conversation reflects on what we can learn from the Hamlet fire, how policy choices have shaped reality during COVID-19, and what we can do to truly value working peoples’ lives going forward.

Read more

Lessons from the second Trump impeachment

Trump supporter in Washington on Jan. 6 – (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

America missed an opportunity to deal a blow to right-wing extremism

Despite a mountain of irrefutable evidence that Donald Trump was guilty of inciting an insurrection, the U.S. Senate acquitted him.

History will record this vote as a shameful abdication on the part of Republican senators. Only seven of them had the decency and the respect for our democracy to vote to convict: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

In a singular act of cowardice, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to acquit Trump and then proceeded to excoriate him for his “disgraceful dereliction of duty.” McConnell knew Trump was guilty as hell but hid behind a legal fig leaf to acquit him. If McConnell had the courage of his convictions, he might have been able to bring enough of his colleagues around not only to give Trump what he deserved and to spare the country the possibility that Trump will ever be able to run for office again but also to send a message, loud and clear, to any future president that assaulting our democracy will not be tolerated.

This urgent message has now not been sent. That is the most tragic lesson of this impeachment trial.

Let us not divert our eyes from how grave the assault on our democracy was on Jan. 6, and from the character of that assault.

I don’t use the term “insurrection” to refer to what happened on Jan. 6. As my friend Allen Ruff has noted, “insurrection” is a value-neutral term. In our history, there were slave insurrections, for instance.

This wasn’t so much an insurrection as it was a putsch — a fascist coup attempt. We should not lose sight of the fact that this was a far right, white supremacist crowd that stormed the Capitol. The stormtroopers were flying the Confederate flag and using the “N” word and one was wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt.

Convicting Trump would have dealt a blow to this fascist movement in America. But now that movement will probably claim vindication and keep growing. That is the scariest lesson of this impeachment trial. Read more

New analysis of school and COVID data suggests additional caution warranted

As this week’s education news has been dominated by the General Assembly’s top-down efforts to force schools to return to in-person instruction, a new analysis offers a note of caution. Data analysis from Wake County Board of Education member (and NC State chemistry professor) Jim Martin pushes back on the narrative that COVID incidence in schools is lower than in the surrounding community. Additionally, the analysis identifies spikes in reported cases for school-aged children in Wake County appear to correlate with in-person opening of schools.

The analysis does not offer a definitive assessment as to whether schools are “safe,” but it provides evidence that the dominant narrative may be overly optimistic:

The above data do not answer the question as to whether or not it is possible to safely operate schools in an in-person fashion but indicate that additional caution may be warranted.  The incidence of COVID infection in schools is comparable to the incidence of infection in the surrounding community.  The Wake County data also strongly suggest that in-person schooling, even under hybrid models, has an identifiable impact on the community incidence of COVID infection.  State health officials should examine whether dates of in-person operation similarly correlate with community incidence of COVID infections in other counties.

To reach these conclusions, Martin undertakes a detailed examination of state and Wake County data on COVID incidence disaggregated by age cohort. By disaggregating the data by age cohort, Martin provides evidence that – contrary to claims made by the ABC Science Collaborative – COVID incidence in schools is similar to community incidence.

Martin’s analysis also provides evidence that spikes in school-aged COVID incidence in Wake County correlates with in-person opening of schools. For example, Martin identifies an increase in COVID incidence for Wake County’s age 5-9 cohort following the county’s return to hybrid-in-person instruction for grades Pre-K to 3 on October 26. An additional increase in November corresponds to the county’s decision in November to begin daily in-person (Plan-A) operation for Pre-K to 3, hybrid in-person instruction for grades 6-8, and the return of certain high school athletics.

Ultimately, Martin calls for policymakers to prioritize vaccination of school staff and to ensure that schools follow rigorous safety protocols.

Martin’s full analysis can be found here.