Nichol: It’s past time to stop playing nice with demagogues of the far right

Gene Nichol

If you can, be sure to check out Prof. Gene Nichol’s latest opinion column in today’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer. As the veteran UNC law professor argues persuasively in “Why won’t Democrats stand up to Cawthorn and the GOP?” it’s time to abandon the illusion that the metastasizing collection of demagogues who populate the leadership of the modern Republican Party are open to reason, honest debate, and finding common ground.

After listing some of the recent and cringe-worthy acts of the deeply troubled freshman North Carolina congressman, Madison Cawthorn, and the feckless statements of U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (which include threats of violence and an attempted blockade of lawful inquiries into the January 6 Capitol insurrection), Nichol puts it this way:

I’ve long found it stunning to contemplate what has become of the party of Lincoln. But it is what it is. The GOP has abandoned the American experiment. They now wage war against it. They seek to do what the Confederates couldn’t. No wonder they’re attached to the Stars and Bars.

Given this remarkable state of affairs, Nichol argues, it makes no sense any longer for Democrats to continue act as if they can somehow pursue responsible governance with such an utterly irresponsible crew. Unfortunately, he says, they’ve yet to learn this lesson.

Yet Democrats behave as if this is all the give and take of normal, even if somewhat extreme, politics. They take Republican claims and postures as if they are offered in good faith. As if we’re having a somewhat ill-tempered political dispute, instead of a fight for our national character. So Democrats won’t blow up the filibuster, or the Supreme Court, or codify abortion rights, or the franchise, or throw folks like Cawthorn out of the Congress. It would be bad form. They bring a powder puff to the gunfight.

Nichol’s sobering but persuasive bottom line:

Democrats have to stop worrying they might insult Republicans by naming what they do. It just gives them more room to accomplish the destruction of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.

Click here to read the entire essay.

Five basic facts anti-abortion activists get wrong

Protesters hold up signs at a protest outside the Texas state capitol. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

Want to reduce abortions?

Great — but doing so doesn’t require unconstitutional abortion bans.

Conversations on female reproductive biology have long been muted. The duct tape is often applied by religious and conservative sects that historically view even the most basic utterances of sexual education as lewd. The result? A fundamental lack of understanding of reproductive health by sexually active people — including by people who can get pregnant.

In light of Texas’ controversial six-week abortion ban, it is therefore all the more reason to address the science behind pregnancy, and illustrate why anti-abortion activists have yet again missed the boat:

Terminology

Anti-abortion activists love to tell you you’re killing babies, yet there are at least four distinct scientific terms relating to human development that should not be used interchangeably: zygote, embryo, fetus and baby.

A zygote is an egg cell that has been fertilized with a male gamete, or sperm. Contrary to popular thought, this is not the start of a pregnancy. The weekly calendar count actually begins on the first day of the pregnant person’s last menstrual period, often a full two weeks prior to fertilization. The zygote marks the combination of DNA.

Pregnancy tests are reliable starting about 10 days after this time, which can total nearly four weeks after the start of the pregnancy. Accordingly, the average pregnancy is not detected until four to seven weeks, with zero guarantee of carrying to full term at this stage. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 50% of fertilized ovums this early result in miscarriages.

After fertilization, the zygote will form into a blastocyte and then an embryo. This cluster of cells begins to map head versus tail and primitive systems. Only after the eighth week of pregnancy is the term fetus applied. There remains no guarantee of successful development, and rates of miscarriages throughout the first trimester stay as high as 20%.

The fourth term, baby, does not apply until the fetus is delivered from the womb. Given the limits on viability, this renders phrases such as “unborn baby” or “unborn child” misleading, as they make assumptions of viability that cannot be determined.

The so-called six-week ‘fetal heartbeat

At six weeks, the embryo — not fetus — does not have a fully functioning heart. Instead, an ultrasound detects electrical activity in localized primitive cells of the embryo that will later go on to develop into a full cardiac system. With absolutely no guarantee of viability at this stage — for either the heart or the pregnancy — defining the embryo as having certain viability is scientific nonsense.

Actual fetal viability Read more

Legislature’s plans for the use of American Rescue Plan funds fall short in three important ways

Click here to view and download a comprehensive list of the ARP items from the NC House and Senate budgets.

The $5.4 billion in flexible funding that North Carolina received from the federal American Rescue Plan presents a tremendous opportunity for the state. With such an unprecedented cash infusion, state leaders have a rare opportunity to both invest in transformational changes that can help all North Carolina communities respond to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, and lay a strong foundation for the future.

Unfortunately, an analysis of the planned uses of these dollars in the competing House and Senate budget proposals reveals a haphazard slew of line items – more than a hundred in each proposal – that altogether fail to provide a vision for change in our state.

Budget conferees are currently attempting to negotiate a compromise budget bill that will be presented to each chamber and, if approved, sent to the Governor. Our analysis to date has focused on the House and Senate proposals for the state’s General Fund dollars; however, the respective state budget proposals also include suggested uses for much of the flexible funding that was received by the state via the federal American Rescue Plan (via the State Fiscal Recovery Fund).

In addition to allocating the American Rescue Plan dollars, the House and Senate plans also allocate issue-specific federal grants to the appropriate state agencies. These dollars will go to support services including child care, mental health, and substance abuse, and will support areas like transportation, capital projects, small business credit initiatives, and more.

Three key takeaways emerge from our analysis (see below for more details):

  1. A lack of transparency and public input from communities is severely limiting the positive impact that’s possible with these funds.
  2. Rather than constructing a coherent vision of the transformational opportunities presented by the influx of flexible federal dollars, the budget proposals instead rely upon mostly arbitrary, one-time allocations for specific needs in specific communities.
  3. Rather than using federal dollars to make up for anticipated near-term losses resulting from a new round of tax cuts, North Carolina should pursue the more sustainable path of investing state dollars to address long-term needs.

A lack of transparency in the process of developing these appropriations does harm to the communities that are left out. State Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars allocated to state and local governments are able to be used to meet a broad range of needs to respond to COVID-19 and begin to build back stronger communities. Lawmakers should therefore seek and provide extensive opportunities for public input and assess needs in communities to ensure funding is targeted to those who need it most. Instead, the proposed plans allocate dollars to narrow uses without any indication of what needs exist.   Read more

Tolerance of UNC basketball celebrations makes clear that not all ‘riots’ are treated equal

Image: AdobeStock

HB 805 is an attempt to suppress outrage against the root of the problem, which is that Black communities are regularly brutalized by police with near impunity.

The rushing of Franklin Street, the downtown area north of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, after UNC claims a basketball victory over Duke or the national title, is widely accepted as a traditional celebration. Thousands of students and sports fans flood Franklin, packing the relatively tiny street with boisterous Tar Heel patriotism and dense crowds as far as the eye can see.

This festivity also comes with significant property damage. In 2009, after UNC won its fifth national basketball championship, the 30,000 people filling Franklin Street cost the town several hundred thousand dollars in crowd control. Reports and video footage surfaced of people jumping through bonfires (24 were counted that night, resulting in eight students receiving treatment at the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center), removing street signs, and even a man climbing a light pole and attempting to saw through a live wire with a pocket knife. A similar title victory in 2005 where 45,000 people rushed Franklin cost Chapel Hill and the university $165,000 to manage. In a 1982 victory where Franklin Street was rushed, about 100 vehicles were damaged. All instances of rushing resulted in instances of property damage, theft, and even sexual assault.

A “riot” is legally characterized as an event in which a group disturbs the public peace by expressing a common purpose with the use of violence, disorder, or terror. Under this definition, rushing Franklin Street would be considered a riot. As North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore says, “We are a nation of laws, not a nation of mob rule.”

Moore, along with Republican Reps. Allen McNeill, Charles Miller, and John Sauls filed House Bill 805 this past May that severely increases the penalties for riot offenses. Although engaging in or inciting a riot is currently a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the outcome, all penalties relating to rioting would increase in severity under the proposal — especially if there is property damage of $1,500 or more; if law enforcement personnel are injured; or if the riot results in death. Trespassing or looting and assaults on emergency personnel, including police officers, would also result in harsher penalties.

Supporters of the bill argue that although protests and the freedom of speech are protected, the destruction of property and the assault of police officers should not be allowed.

But if this is true, why are Franklin Street rushes never considered riots?

Sadly, what the state determines to be a “riot” is largely a function of whether it is perceived as a threat to existing power structures – and in particular, white supremacy. Black Lives Matter protests threaten the power of the carceral state and white supremacy in a way that Franklin Street rushes never will. So, although both may result in property damage, only one “riot” is truly transformative in intent.

The United States has a criminal justice system that reconstructs our nation’s violent enslavement of Black people. This is evident in the behavior of Chapel Hill police that reflects the racial violence embedded within legislation like House Bill 805. Read more

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Let your candy do the talkin’

I think the people who make M&M’s may have hit on the perfect way for folks who are too shy to say how they really feel to finally just put it all out there. I first noticed the “M&M’s Messages” candy in the checkout line this week. It’s a normal size bag of M&M’s but there’s a bold-print message on the bag you can’t miss, like: “He wasn’t even that cute” or “Have a great day pretending to do work” or “Congrats on being above average.”

It’s a clever marketing strategy because who among us hasn’t thought: “Dammit, if only there was a peanut or milk chocolate treat that would help me speak my truth!” Am I right?

Most are nice. Ish. Like “Miss your face,” or “You make Mama proud” but I like the slightly edgier ones: “I’d follow you anywhere… in a non-creepy way.” Which, now that you’ve introduced the notion of creepy is most definitely creepy.

Just because the message is delivered by “saucy green” or “affable yellow” M&M, it’s still a tad weird.

But potentially quite useful.

While I’ve never had trouble sharing exactly how I feel — to the point of being invited this week by a COVID-denier to do that which is anatomically impossible — I recognize some of y’all need a little help in this department.

You don’t want to offend.

You hate conflict.

You have to wash your hair.

The M&M’s messages take the candy hearts of old many steps further. I mean, telling someone “I love being socially awkward with you” is way better than “Dear One,” a standard candy heart that now just evokes those emails from the overly friendly widow who lives a few continents away and needs your bank routing information so she can share her $10 million inheritance with you. Dear one. Oh, also your Social when you have a sec. Dear one.

Years ago, we were invited to “Say it with flowers!” but side eye via candy that costs less than 2 bucks a bag is even better. You may not appreciate the sentiment but if you’re any kind of American, you’re still going to rip off the top of that little packet of goodness, throw your head back and open your gullet like God intended.

So, although there are a whopping 36 M&M messages available for you to toss at someone passive aggressively and either run away or wait for them to cuddle with you–depending on message–there’s room for lots more.

Here are some “messages” and intended recipients I’d like to see distributed. You’re welcome Mars, Inc.

Britney to her daddy: “Get a job, ol’ man!”

Kevin Federline to Britney: “We good, though, right B? I mean, who’s going to hire me? I’m in my 40s and still wear cargo shorts, like, to weddings…”

Marjorie Taylor Greene to Lauren Boebert: “With my fame and your brains we could conquer… the abandoned Stuckey’s over on 301.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to Harvard and Yale: “C’mon, guys. You can’t be that surprised. My dorm room always smelled like grilled manatee. WHOOOHOOOO! #floridaman

Harvard and Yale to DeSantis: (huffy) “Yes, and we are STILL trying to get the smell out.”

Andrew Cuomo to every woman who ever worked for him: “You asked for it. I mean, you said, “Good morning!” So, yeah, I licked your face like a collie and said, “nice t–ts.” I mean, how do you greet YOUR mother?”

Kim Cattrall to the cast of “And Just Like That”: Yeah, I can’t eat another bite. Who knew hands that feed you are so filling!”

The makers of broccoli “pizza crusts” to all of us: “Okaaaaay. So we saw you liked the cauliflower and we may have gone a little overboard. OK, a lot overboard…yeah, we’re gross.”

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Her email is [email protected].