UNC Lied About Silent Sam. Heads Should Roll.

Also: Mark Robinson vs. WRAL + Cooper wants schools to open (and Wake’s will) + Trump’s impeachment defense + don’t make fun of Space Force :( + aliens swung by + how to argue with idiots

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 

Happy Wednesday … Bad news: Pauxatawny Phil did not see his shadow. … Good news: Sir Walter Wally did. … Proposed compromise: Winter can keep its happy ass up north. …

Speaking of which: Today will be mostly sunny, with a high around 47. Up yours, Phil, you dirty rodent. 

Today’s newsletter is a 10-minute read.

Today’s Number: 19

Percentage by which California births declined in December 2020 — nine months after the declaration of a national emergency — compared to December 2019, an indication that the predicted pandemic baby boom was, in fact, a baby bust. 

  • The five states that provided monthly birth totals —  Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, and Ohio — all saw “large declines nine months after Covid-19 was declared a national emergency. More than 50,000 fewer births occurred in these states in 2020 compared with a year earlier.” (Bloomberg)

On This Day 

  • 1815: The world’s first commercial cheese factory was established in Switzerland. 

  • 1834: Wake Forest Institute — later College — was established in Wake Forest. One hundred and twelve years later, a tobacco company bribed it to move to Winston-Salem. It forgot to change its name. 

  • 1863: Samuel Clemens first used the pen name Mark Twain. 

  • 1887: Congress passed the Electoral Count Act, which we all learned about last month. 

  • 1913: The 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which allows for a federal income tax, was ratified. 

  • 1931: After journalist H.L. Mencken called Arkansas the “apex of moronia,” the state legislature passed a resolution to pray for his soul. (No, I did not make that up.) 

  • 1941: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the minimum wage. 

  • 1959: A plane crash killed Buddy Holly, Richie Vallens, and J.P. Richardson and inspired Don McClean to play the same chords over and over for like 73 minutes.

  • 1983: Henry Frye became the first African-American justice on North Carolina’s Supreme Court. 

One Year Ago 


1. UNC Lied About the Silent Sam Settlement

Two thoughts before we dive in: 

  • The Daily Tar Heel is the best college newspaper in the country.

  • Heads need to roll.  

Here’s the background: 

  • Last January, the DTH filed a complaint against the UNC Board of Governors alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act. 

  • Two months before that, the UNC System arranged a shady deal in which it first paid the Sons of Confederate Veterans $74,999 — $1 less than it would have had to disclose — ostensibly to limit the SCV’s activities on campus but really to fund its acquisition of the rights to Silent Sam from the Daughters of the Confederacy, which gave it to UNC a century ago; then settled a not-yet-filed lawsuit giving Sam to the SCV plus $2.5 million to care for him. 

  • A judge voided the second, larger settlement in February. The first one was still in effect.  

  • Still with me? Good. 

  • The first agreement, for $74,999, wasn’t made public until Dec. 16, when five members of the BOG published an op-ed in the N&O defending the UNC System’s arrangement. In that op-ed, the five said they brought the proposed settlement to the BOG’s Governance Committee. 

  • But the Governance Committee hadn’t discussed that settlement at a public hearing. Nor had it given notice of any such hearing or published minutes of any such discussion. That’s illegal. And it would also void the arrangement. 

  • So the DTH, God love ’em, sued the bastards. 

The DTH and UNC have now settled the lawsuit, which means we find out what really went down. It’s not government at its finest. 

  • The five BOG members who’d been tasked with figuring out a solution to the Silent Sam mess in 2018 — and who penned that op-ed in December 2019 — weren’t involved in the SCV negotiations at all. 

  • They lied. They bald-faced effing lied. 

  • A signed statement from the UNC System [released as part of the lawsuit settlement] showed that four individuals were involved in its negotiations: SCV lawyer Boyd Sturges; UNC System lawyers Ripley Rand and Tom Shanahan; and Clayton Somers, UNC-Chapel Hill’s vice chancellor for public affairs.”

  • “‘The terms of this settlement were discussed during a meeting on or about November 21, 2019, attended by Clayton Somers, Ripley Rand, Tom Shanahan, and the SCV’s attorney [Boyd Sturges], and then documented by the parties’ attorneys,’ the statement said.”

  • Oh, and UNC System Vice President for Communications Earl Whipple penned that op-ed and put it in the BOG members’ names to give it credibility. 

Allow me to reiterate: 

  • Heads need to roll. 

  • Start with the five board members who apparently signed off on having a PR flack ghostwrite a bullshit op-ed. Somers and the UNC lawyers who negotiated the deal in secret? Them, too. 

  • While we’re at it, maybe we should rethink the wisdom of allowing Republicans in the General Assembly to offload their friends and donors onto the university system’s governing body. It really doesn’t seem to be going that well. 

2. NC’s LG Is Mad About KKK Cartoon

Yesterday, WRAL published this cartoon about the State Board of Education’s opposition to revised social studies standards that mention racism and other unpleasantries. 

The outrage machine cranked up:  

  • “[Cartoonist Dennis] Draughon characterizes some members of the board, including Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is black, and Olivia Oxendine, who is Native American, as racists for their opposition to controversial social studies standards that sparked debate last week.” (North State Journal)

  • “‘It’s something we cannot stand for, folks,’ Robinson said at a press conference the NCGOP held Tuesday to criticize the cartoon.” (N&O)

I have thoughts! 

  • That cartoon … isn’t very good. It’s neither clever nor insightful. It’s kind of lazy. I can’t imagine they thought the juice was worth the squeeze. Then again, let he who is without sin …. (Honestly, it’s all too easy to publish cartoons without a second glance because you don’t edit them.)

  • Opposition to the standards — which use history to discuss racism, discrimination, and the perspectives of marginalized people — is rooted in a pollyannaish view of American history that’s distorted and inaccurate and, yes, furthers the Very White narrative most of us absorbed as children. 

  • As every conservative on Twitter pointed out yesterday, Mark Robinson is Black! It’s true! He’s also a conspiracy-theorist authoritarian with a well-documented record of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-LGBTQ social media posts.

About that: Robinson said there is a big difference between the gross, crazy shit he posted before being elected — NBD, apparently — and a dumb cartoon on a news site: 

  • “As a public servant, I have to put those opinions behind me and do what’s right for everyone in North Carolina. And I’m grown enough to do that. .... And if I ran a statewide publication like WRAL, I would not post something like that. It’s all about where you stand at the moment when you speak.”


  • The former home of the late N&O publisher/virulent racist Josephus Daniels will no longer be listed as a local historic landmark. (N&O)


3. Cooper Wants Students Back in Schools

With the General Assembly moving a bill to force school districts to reopen classrooms, Governor Cooper got in on the action — sort of. In a letter to school districts and at a press conference yesterday, Cooper “strongly urged” schools to reopen with COVID precautions in place. He did not require it, though. 

  • The North Carolina Association of Educators says teachers should get vaccinated first: “Getting [educators] vaccinated is one of the most critical steps in restarting in-person instruction statewide,” says NCAE president Tamika Walker Kelly. “Educators will continue to get sick and, yes, more of them will die.” (ABC 11)

  • Cooper demurred on whether he’d sign the NCGA bill. He has issues with it, he said, and these decisions are better made locally. 

  • The NCGA isn’t promising districts more money to handle COVID precautions. Federal dollars and the legislation that holds districts harmless — meaning they are not liable should students or teachers get sick or die — should suffice, the legislature says.

  • Wake County’s school board voted 8–1 to return to in-person instruction on Feb. 15. In an online survey, 91% of Wake parents said they’re comfortable with that. 

  • Unless the DPS school board changes its mind, Durham will be remote for the rest of the year. 


  • The COVID variant that’s spreading quickly in the UK might make vaccines less effective. (NYT)

  • More than 100 million COVID infections have been recorded worldwide. (NPR)

  • Fewer than 3,000 new cases were reported in North Carolina on Tuesday, the first time that’s happened in a month. (N&O)

  • Big Ed Watkins, the Raleigh restaurants’ founder and namesake, died of COVID-related pneumonia on Tuesday. His first restaurant opened in 1958. (N&O)

  • EmitBio, a subsidiary of the Durham research company KNOW Bio — whose CEO, Neal Hunter, co-founded CREE — has asked the FDA for emergency use authorization for light treatment (as in, light you can see) for adults with mild cases of COVID-19, which it says “achieved a 99.9 percent reduction in average viral load of SARS-CoV-2 … while also accelerating the time to symptom resolution in patients by more than 48 hours.” (TBJ, sub. req.)

  • If COVID-curing light rays aren’t your thing, a fancy-pants Durham weight-loss center might be able to hook you up with a vaccine. (N&O)

4. Trump Claims Right to Gaslight, Says He Can’t Be Prosecuted 

Yesterday, the House impeachment managers and Donald Trump’s lawyers filed their impeachment trial briefs. (See the House’s here; Trump’s here.) 

  • In an 80-page brief, the House managers accuse Trump of inciting an insurrection: “[The Framers] were well aware of the danger posed by opportunists who incited mobs to violence for political gain. They drafted the Constitution to avoid such thuggery, which they associated with ‘the threat of civil disorder and the early assumption of power by a dictator.’ … If provoking an insurrectionary riot against a Joint Session of Congress after losing an election is not an impeachable offense, it is hard to imagine what would be.”

  • In a grammatically challenged 14-page response, Trump’s lawyers say his lies were protected by the First Amendment and the Constitution prohibits impeaching an ex-president.”

  • Read The Washington Post’s story here.

Related: After Trump’s defeat and subsequent claims of fraud, Republican lawmakers in Georgia and Texas have found the real enemy: voters. 

  • “Republican state senators introduced a package of bills Monday to ban automatic voter registration, ballot drop boxes, and no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia.” (AJC)

  • “Georgia voters would be required to make copies of their photo ID and mail them to election officials twice before being allowed to cast an absentee ballot, according to a bill introduced [last week].” (AJC)

  • “Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday unveiled a legislative agenda centered on the state’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and a series of more politically charged issues such as police funding and ‘election integrity.’ … On election security, Abbott did not say what he was looking for beyond instilling ‘trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections.’ Texas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country.” (Texas Trib)

  • It’s unlikely Texas and Georgia will be the only states that make it harder to vote.

  • Irony alert: Georgia is investigating whether Kraken attorney Lin Wood committed voter fraud. (WSB-TV)


  • The two North Carolina dumbasses the FBI has charged in connection with the Capitol riot — which took place because of an allegedly stolen election — didn’t bother to vote. (N&O)


  • The Senate has confirmed Secretary Mayor Pete to head HHS and Alejandro Mayorkas to lead DHS, marking the first time an openly LGBTQ person has been confirmed to a Cabinet post and a Latino has led DHS, respectively, (WaPo, WaPo

  • The Office of Inspector General at Mayorkas’s Department of Homeland Security is a grade-A dumpster fire, with employees weaponizing whistleblower complaints to attack each other. (The Intercept)

  • A new PAC started by former AOC aides is looking for candidates to primary Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, two moderates who are resistant to eliminating the filibuster. Neither candidate is on the ballot until 2024, and the idea that a left-winger is going to win West Virginia is, well, something. (Politico)

  • If you’ve ever wondered why Florida Democrats keep losing to dudes who are lucky to tie their shoes in the morning, take a gander at their organization prowess: “The cash-strapped Florida Democratic Party allowed health insurance for its employees to lapse late last year, leaving some staff unable to pay medical bills and rattling the already struggling organization anew.” (Politico

Share PRIMER | North Carolina

5. Harvard Astrophysicist: Aliens Visited

It turns out, the biggest story of the decade — The century? Human history? — happened in 2017, and we were all too focused on Trump’s tweets to notice: Aliens visited. 

  • This isn’t according to the It Was Aliens Guy, mind you, but a Harvard astrophysicist whose work on so-called light sails could prove essential to any hope we have of ever leaving this rock. 

  • So why haven’t you heard of this momentous event? “My colleagues are not using common sense,” Avi Loeb told Scientific American

In late 2017, an interstellar something briefly came in view of our telescopes. Scientists called it ‘Oumuamua, a Hawaiian word for “scout.” 

  • “The unavoidably cursory examinations of this celestial passerby showed it had several properties that defied easy natural explanation. ‘Oumuamua’s apparent shape — which was like a 100-meter-long cigar or pancake — did not closely resemble any known asteroid or comet.” 

  • “Neither did its brightness, which revealed ‘Oumuamua was at least 10 times more reflective than one of our solar system’s typical space rocks — shiny enough to suggest the gleam of burnished metal.” 

  • “Most strangely, as it zoomed off after swooping by the sun, the object sped up faster than could be explained by our star’s waning gravitational grip alone.”

Most scientists looked at the data and wrote it off as a natural phenomenon. Loeb saw an artifact of extraterrestrial intelligence — and the only reason no one else did, he says, is because they’ve closed their minds to the possibility. 


  • Jeff Bezos — who may or may not be human but has made more money than any human ever should while union-busting and subjecting warehouse workers to hideous conditions, then firing whoever complains — is stepping down as CEO of Amazon effective July 1. (NBC News)

  • House Republicans are (pretending to be) upset about a joke press secretary Jen Psaki made about the Space Force, the totally real branch of the military Trump invented. (Politico)

6. What I’m Reading: “The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People”

When someone seems closed-minded, my instinct is to argue the polar opposite of their position. But when I go on the attack, my opponents either shut down or fight back harder. On more than one occasion, I’ve been called a “logic bully.”

When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives. … 

Several decades ago, when treating substance abuse problems, psychologists developed a technique called motivational interviewing. The central premise: Instead of trying to force other people to change, you’re better off helping them find their own intrinsic motivation to change.

Source: The New York Times