8 Dead in Another Mass Shooting. (Thoughts, Prayers, Rinse, Repeat.)

May 27, 2021: There’s a lot of news this morning. Some of it’s not depressing.

+TODAY’S TOP 10

1. Transit Worker Opens Fire in San Jose, Kills 8

A transit worker opened fire at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s rail yard in the heart of San Jose early yesterday morning. About 100 workers were on-site; at least eight died. The gunman fatally shot himself, too. The shooting spree followed a fire at the gunman’s house in a suburb about eight miles away, which authorities believe the gunman set.

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom: “What the hell is wrong with us, and when are we going to come to grips with this?”

  • President Biden, urging Congress yet again to do something about gun violence: “There are at least eight families who will never be whole again. There are children, parents, and spouses who are waiting to hear whether someone they love is ever going to come home. There are union brothers and sisters—good, honest, hardworking people—who are mourning their own.”

From the Washington Post:

It is among the deadliest shootings of 2021—a year that has so far outpaced 2020, when gun violence killed more people than any other year in at least two decades, according to data from Gun Violence Archive. …

Since mid-March, when a gunman killed eight at Atlanta-area spas, more than 160 people have lost their lives in shootings with four or more victims, according to the archive. …

The dizzying pace of the shootings has once again put debate over gun control measures squarely in the national political spotlight. As news of the San Jose shooting spread, Republican senators were grilling President Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives for his critical comments on gun measures.


2. Durham Deputy Fights for His Right to Be an Anti-Vaxxer

I missed this story when ABC 11 first got it a few weeks ago. I only noticed it yesterday, when the Washington Post put it into a larger context.

Here’s the gist:

  • In January, Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead ordered all of his deputies to get vaccinated. He wasn’t ambivalent: “I am requiring all employees to be vaccinated. It is mandatory.”

  • A few days later, he reiterated: “I am disappointed with the low compliance rate of employees taking advantage of this opportunity. I must remind you this is Not an Option—taking the vaccine is Mandatory for all DCSO employees. ... Failure to take the vaccine could result in disciplinary action.”

  • Deputy Christopher Neve, who worked in the jail, refused. Birkhead put him on two weeks’ unpaid leave, then fired him.

  • In April, Neve sued Birkhead, now-former county manager Wendell Davis, and “Jane Does 1-20,” which is legalese for “I’m suing a bunch of people, but I don’t know who.”

  • Neve’s complaint regurgitates what you’ll find on plenty of anti-vaxxer websites—minus the Bill Gates/5G/Mark of the Beast stuff—then adds a legal argument that boils down to the idea that Birkhead didn’t have the right to fire him.

  • The county, which filed its motion to dismiss last week, argues (fairly persuasively, IMHO) Neve has no legal grounds to sue.

The context is that the firm suing on Neve’s behalf is doing this all over the country.

Per WaPo:

The Americans lodging complaints against coronavirus vaccine mandates are a diverse lot—a sheriff’s deputy in North Carolina, nursing home employees in Wisconsin and students at the largest university in New Jersey.

But their resistance is woven together by a common thread: the involvement of a law firm closely tied to the anti-vaccine movement.

Attorneys from Siri & Glimstad—a New York firm that has done millions of dollars of legal work for one of the nation’s foremost anti-vaccination groups—are co-counsel in a case against the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. They’ve sent warningletters to officials in Rock County, Wis., as well as to the president of Rutgers Universityand other schools.

The legal salvos show that a groundswell against compulsory immunization is being coordinated, at least in part, from a law office on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan. And they offer a window into a wide-ranging and well-resourced effort to contest vaccine requirements in workplaces and other settings critical to the country’s reopening—a dispute with sweeping implications for public health, state authorityand individual rights.

In a roundabout way, the Post reports, the firm’s campaign links back to RFK Jr.’s anti-vax efforts.

▶️ OTHER COVID LAWSUIT NEWS

An Onslow County customer service rep has sued her employer for firing her after she refused to return to the office.

From the TBJ (sub. required):

Plaintiff Marie Johnson, like many of her colleagues at Concentrix, began working from her Onslow County home in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. …

According to the seven-page lawsuit her attorneys filed in federal court, she “never received any negative performance evaluations,” and was actually named “Agent of the Month” four times. But after repeatedly complaining of problems with her hardware—specifically the headset used to take calls from clients—the company's feedback changed.

The lawsuit describes headset glitches causing work calls to “fade in and out,” preventing Johnson from communicating with clients. When she complained, she was told to reboot her computer system, but the problem persisted.

Long story short: They told her to come in. She has chronic pain and said she didn’t feel comfortable doing so. The glitches continued. She was fired for call avoidance.


3. Tillis, Burr Want Cooper to Cut Off the Unemployed

Remember when Thom Tillis was House Speaker and, amid the tax cut frenzy, Republicans slashed unemployment benefits to among the lowest in the nation?

Yesterday, now-Senator Tillis and Sen. Richard Burr issued a press release demanding that Governor Cooper stop accepting the “exorbitant” federal unemployment supplements they both voted against. The additional $300 a week—which ends in September—is responsible for an employment shortage, they say.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve heard from countless small, mid, and large-sized business owners across North Carolina struggling to hire enough workers to reopen this summer. Employers, particularly in hard-hit industries like tourism, service, and hospitality, are finding they can’t compete with excessive federal benefits. Time is running out for industries that rely on the summer season for a large portion of their business. 

Dismissing these concerns by telling employers to ‘pay more’ demonstrates an ignorance of the math at play. The business owners we’ve spoken to have offered higher wages and other incentives, despite operating on razor-thin margins. Even if a small business could afford to pay the progressives’ ideal of $15 per hour – and most can’t – it still wouldn’t be enough. A person making $15 an hour earns $600 for a 40-hour work week; expanded federal UI pays up to $650 for a zero-hour work week. It’s no wonder so many have delayed returning to work as long as possible.

One important thing: The jobs Tillis and Burr are eager to staff don’t pay anywhere close to a living wage. That’s the point. They can’t compete with even subsistence-level unemployment benefits. That’s the system the senators want to prop up.

Here’s the NC Justice Center’s Alexandra Sirota:

  • There’s little evidence that wages are accelerating—which is what happens when employers are desperate to hire—either nationally or in North Carolina, especially at lower levels.

  • Statewide, 75,000 more people are looking for work than before the pandemic. (North Carolina’s unemployment rate is 5%. It was 3.9% pre-pandemic.)

  • Research from last year—when the supplement was $600—shows that it had no effect on people’s willingness to work: “We find no evidence that more generous benefits disincentivized work either at the onset of the expansion or as firms looked to return to business over time.”

Many (Republican) states are forgoing the supplement on these grounds, and a majority of people—including a third of Democrats—supported doing so in a recent poll. Cooper’s unlikely to go along, but he and the General Assembly seem to be converging on giving people cash for getting a job.

By the way: Since we’re talking about what’s “exorbitant,” I feel obliged to note the time Burr dumped up to $1.7 million in stocks right before the pandemic crashed the market, then claimed it had nothing to do with any insider info he may have received as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Ed note: Now for a lightning round.


4. UNC Trustees Get Another Chance to Screw Up the Hannah Jones Affair

UNC’s Appointments, Personnel, and Tenure Committee resubmitted Nikole Hannah-Jones for tenure consideration. There’s no guarantee the Board of Trustees will vote, and no guarantee they won’t show their whole ass again if they do. The next board meeting isn’t until mid-July, but board members told Policy Watch they expect it to come up before the end of June.

  • The Board of Governors has promised to stay out of it. (Uh-huh, yep, sure.)

  • 1,619 alumni purchased a two-page ad in the N&O in support of Hannah-Jones.


5. Carrboro’s Mayor Stepping Down

Lydia Lavelle, who has been mayor of Carrboro since 2013, announced that she won’t seek another term.

  • “It has been a great honor to serve Carrboro, the town I consider the most progressive in North Carolina. Carrboro’s core values have been my lodestar as mayor. With the support of this small-but-mighty community and the hard work of my colleagues on the Town Council, we have translated Carrboro’s progressive reputation into leadership and action on important statewide issues.”

RELATED: At 2 p.m. in front of Durham’s City Hall, Mayor Steve Schewel will announce whether he’s seeking a third term. He’s being cagey about it, too.


6. Durham to Downsize Its Police Force

On Tuesday, the city held a forum to ask the public what it wants in the next police chief. Almost no one showed. Only one person, a spokesman for the Durham County Fraternal Order of Police, spoke.

  • “Durham has a real struggle with recruiting right now. Staffing is way down. And as we have talked to officers who have left the Durham Police Department, it hasn’t been as much about pay as it’s been about support.”

About that: At least four Durham council members want to leave 20 vacant police positions unfilled and shift the money to a new Community Safety Department.

  • In her proposed budget, new city manager Wanda Page had recommended losing five of those positions.


7. U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning Says Criticizing Israel Is Antisemitic

Kathy Manning, a newly elected congresswoman from the Triad, joined three other Jewish Democrats in signing an open letter to President Biden on the rise in antisemitism.

Elected officials have used reckless, irresponsible antisemitic rhetoric. These include repeated, unacceptable, and blatantly antisemitic statements made by a Member of Congress comparing facemasks and other COVID-19 public health measures to “what happened in Nazi Germany” during the Holocaust.

We also reject comments from Members of Congress accusing Israel of being an “apartheid state” and committing “act[s] of terrorism.” These statements are antisemitic at their core and contribute to a climate that is hostile to many Jews. We must never forget that less than eighty years ago, within the lifetime of our parents and grandparents, six million people were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust because they were Jews. Israel has long provided the Jewish people with a homeland in which they can be safe after facing centuries of persecution.

The first paragraph, of course, refers to the Q-Anon congresslady from Georgia, who at this point is probably best ignored. The second refers to comments made by Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib.

  • I’m not going to get into the particulars of Israel and Palestine. It’s too complex for a lightning round, and it’s not really my area of expertise.

  • However, saying Israel has built an apartheid state isn’t exactly radical. France thinks so. So does Human Rights Watch. Whether or not you agree with those assessments, they’re not beyond the pale.

  • And continuous airstrikes that have forced residents of Gaza City to flee their homes while killing more than a hundred civilians have without question invoked terror. So, too, did the rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad radicals fired into Israel, but the difference in scale is massive. The Hamas attacks killed eight.

  • Again, I’m not a Middle East expert. But I take strong exception to politicians saying it’s “blatantly” antisemitic to criticize the policies of a government to whom we give billions of dollars in death toys every year. If we’re funding those missiles, we damn sure should be able to question how they’re being used.


8. Wake School Board Chair Going to Warren County

Keith Sutton has been named the interim superintendent of Warren County’s school system, which has 1,700 students. He recently completed a nine-month Urban Superintendents Academy course and hopes to become the permanent super. Until that happens, though, he won’t resign from the school board.


9. Exxon Shareholders Revolt, Demand Climate Action

This lede gave me happy dreams:

ExxonMobil shareholders voted Wednesday to install at least two new independent directors to the company’s board, a resounding defeat for chief executive Darren Woods and a ratification of shareholders’ unhappiness with the way the company had been addressing climate change and its lagging financial performance.

Graph 2 is even better:

The votes were part of a day of reckoning for an oil and gas industry already struggling over how to deal with climate change. In Europe, a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell, considered one of the more forward-thinking companies in the industry, to make deeper-than-planned cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. And in the United States, Chevron lost a shareholder vote directing the company to take into account its customers’ emissions when planning reductions.

There is hope for the future, maybe.


10. Bond Villain Buys Bond Films

Jeff Bezos’s Amazon has acquired the rights to MGM’s catalog for $8.45 billion—and with it, the Bond movies. Other stuff, too.

The move aims to bring much-needed assets to both sides. Like many recent Hollywood entrants, Amazon has struggled to locate the deep well of content enjoyed by Disney, Paramount and other traditional studios.

And like many traditional Hollywood players, MGM has struggled to keep up with modern Hollywood, in which deep pockets and digital distribution rule the day.