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Meet the new climate refugee in town: coyotes

By Todd Woody
Meet the new climate refugee in town: coyotes
A coyote warning sign stands in the front yard of a residence in Kensington, Calif., on Nov. 29, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris

Amid the sylvan tranquility of the Berkeley hills neighborhood, an image of a snarling predator, fangs bared, stares down at passersby from atop a pole planted in the yard of a sprawling Tudor-style home. "Danger! "Coyotes!" the homemade placard warns.

It's a sign of a growing climate-driven conflict. Drought and heat waves are not only fueling catastrophic wildfires in California's wildland-urban interface, they're also driving coyotes and other wildlife into the streets in search of food and water, according to scientists. That's triggering clashes among residents over an influx of four-footed climate refugees into the Berkeley hills and adjoining neighborhoods wedged between a vast regional park and San Francisco Bay.

Tracy Richardson says she and her partner put up the sign after a coyote crossed into their yard on an August Sunday morning and growled at them and their three cats. A week later, she says, a coyote snatched one of the felines and ran down the street. "Our cat was sitting like five feet from us and the coyote came up to get the cat," says Richardson. "We're doing this to stop the inevitable, which is a human is going to get attacked."

Attacks on people are rare. But with reports of coyotes roaming the hills and preying on pets multiplying as California's record-breaking drought drags on, the response from some in this affluent, ecologically self-conscious enclave has become increasingly dark. "I am in favor of shooting the most dangerous coyotes," one neighbor declared on Nextdoor in August while another wrote, "Would be nice to see coyotes eradicated from the city."

Richardson has hired a trapper, who placed a cage on their property. No coyote has yet been caught.

Urban coyotes have established themselves as a permanent presence in cities nationwide over the past two decades. Climate change, however, is now pushing wildland animals - coyotes, bears, bobcats, feral pigs, elk - into residential areas where food and water are abundant.

"Most coyotes will try to stay away from folks as much as they possibly can, but as droughts and fires get worse, they will have no choice but to move into human settlements," says Christopher Schell, an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley who studies urban coyotes. "That sets up the perfect storm for human-coyote conflict."

As climate change alters the habitats and migration patterns of wildlife, those confrontations are likely to rise, scientists say, compelling a reassessment of how humans share a landscape they and their pets have long dominated.

"It's just an incredibly unrealistic expectation to think that we're going to be able to keep wildlife like coyotes out of cities," says Morgan Farmer, a PhD student researching urban carnivores at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Our effort is better spent trying to understand how to coexist rather than to try and remove them."

Tilden Regional Park is a 2,079-acre preserve of canyons, meadows, eucalyptus forests and oak and bay laurel woodlands that borders Berkeley and other East Bay cities. Nearby residents have long lived with wildlife. Families of deer amble down winding lanes, grazing on carefully cultivated gardens. Gray foxes perch on backyard fences, scouting for squirrels. And on occasion, a mountain lion will leave Tilden for dinner in town, chasing deer through hillside neighborhoods.

Encounters with coyotes tended to be fleeting, a shadowy shape caught in the corner of the eye or in the headlights of a car as the omnivores moved through the hills at dusk and dawn. During periodic droughts, though, daytime sightings become common as water and prey grow scarce in Tilden. Such contact - and the alarm it raises - was cyclical. As the rain inevitably returned after past droughts, so did some coyotes to the park.

Now, scorching heat waves and back-to-back droughts are upending that balance. California is in the second year of an extreme drought, and since October 2020, more than 1,000 acres of trees have died in East Bay regional parks. By fall, most of the parks' ponds and streams had gone dry for the first time in memory, according to Doug Bell, wildlife program manager for the East Bay Regional Park District. That in turn precipitated a fall in populations of rabbits, squirrels and other coyote chow. As water dries up, wild turkeys have descended into the flatlands, and residents have recently posted sightings of feral pigs roto-tilling lawns and bobcats bounding into backyards.

"It's been mind-boggling and there probably has been a lot of movement of animals like bobcats and coyotes into the urban environment because we supply a lot of food, water and places for them to seek refuge," says Bell, noting coyotes' indiscriminate palate includes cats and other small mammals, fruit and just about anything edible that humans toss in the trash.

Across San Francisco Bay, the black bear population had been extinct in Marin County for 120 years with only rare sightings of individual animals over the decades. Then in May, a homeowner in the town of San Anselmo found a 200-to-300-pound bear clinging to an oak tree in her backyard, a block from downtown.

"There's probably several bears in Marin County now," says Stacy Martinelli, a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, noting confirmed sightings over the summer

In neighboring Sonoma County, a 500-pound black bear rambled around a neighborhood near downtown Petaluma last month before seeking refuge in a redwood tree. Martinelli has received so many calls from Sonoma County residents about bears that she is helping lead a two-year genetic study of the population that could shed light on whether climate conditions are prompting migration to cities. She says Tule elk, which were not known to exist in Sonoma, have begun to show up in backyard gardens.

How many coyotes traverse East Bay neighborhoods is unknown, though Schell says planned research projects aim to pinpoint the population and its distribution. He says increased sightings of coyotes in part may be due to more people working from home and strolling their neighborhoods during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One indication of coyote numbers in the area comes from a 2017 study conducted by Farmer when she was a UC Berkeley student. She set up nine camera traps on trails in Tilden and captured images of coyotes over the course of a year. Farmer determined that the park is probably home to six to 10 coyotes; likely many more live in the vicinity and may pass through Tilden.

"There's a lot of tension between people who are really concerned about the safety of their children or their pets and people who really value the animals and their place in nature," says Farmer.

Those tensions have intensified in recent months, polarizing an otherwise politically homogenous community where Joe Biden received upwards of 95% of the presidential vote in 2020 and "Hate Has No Home Here" signs dot the yards of $1.8 million houses.

Residents routinely post photos of coyotes trotting down streets during the day on social media along with reports of cats killed by the animals. That's generated hundreds of comments and petitions to local officials to reduce the animal's numbers. One neighbor called coyotes "a parasite on human beings" on Nextdoor in August, prompting another to respond, "Coyotes have been living and hunting here since before European colonization. Are you actually advocating for a mass extermination of a species?"

Gina Farr is an environmental educator and advisory board member at Project Coyote, a Marin County-based nonprofit that promotes co-existence with carnivores. She says such reactions express both an ancient fear of predators and a misunderstanding of coyote behavior in residential areas. Wildlife experts say coyotes rarely attack people and incidents mostly happen when a coyote has become habituated to humans who feed the animals or give them easy access to food.

"Coyotes are simply being attracted by a resource that takes very few calories to obtain," says Farr, noting that keeping cats inside, dogs on leashes and putting food and water out of reach will minimize negative interaction with coyotes.

Kensington resident Marilyn Stollon says she started a spreadsheet of sightings in three East Bay communities after a coyote jumped a fence and chased her cat through a neighbor's yard. She says she's so far this year recorded 102 coyote sightings and 21 cats killed.

"I do believe that once urban coyotes have been habituated and are rogue ... it may signal that those few need to be removed," Stollon said in an email, adding that she now keeps her cat inside.

Other factors may drive coyote conflicts. Schell says research shows that coyotes favor green spaces most often found in wealthier communities that may regard the incursion of such outsiders as a threat. "The historical and contemporary legacies of inequality shape how we perceive and treat coyotes and how folks view their ownership of the landscape," he says. "That will only get worse as fire and drought get worse."

To Farr, trying to wall off neighborhoods from animals people find problematic is "like digging a hole in the ocean" - there's always another wave of wildlife to take their place.

"We live in a natural world," she says, "and we can never sterilize nature around us."

Advocates push nationwide movement for land return to Blacks after victory in California

By Erica Werner and Troy McMullen
Advocates push nationwide movement for land return to Blacks after victory in California
Charles and Willa Bruce on the plaque at Bruce's Beach. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Allison Zaucha

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. - A Black family's successful fight to reclaim a picturesque stretch of Southern California shoreline has ignited a national movement, with activists eyeing White-owned properties around the country they say rightfully belong to African Americans.

A landmark law signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, on Sept. 30 restored a seaside park in Manhattan Beach to the Bruce family, which owned the land before the city used eminent domain to seize it in 1924. The victory was hailed as a watershed moment, the first example of Black people forcing the return of property that was taken from them by one means or another, often violently, over the years.

At the same time it raised a question: Would the Bruce's Beach case be a one-off, or a tipping point in a national struggle over Black land ownership? Activists and scholars say there are other similar cases nationwide, but proving them - and getting the current property owners to cooperate - will be a different matter, forcing another chapter in the nation's racial reckoning and raising thorny questions about how to right past wrongs.

"The reason it's getting so much attention now is there's been a precedent set and that's what's giving hope to other families," said Kavon Ward, who helped lead the successful fight on behalf of the Bruce family and has co-founded a group called Where Is My Land aimed at advocating for other Black people who are trying to reclaim lost and stolen land. "This is just the beginning."

Ward said she has already heard from more than 100 people eager to make the case that they have a rightful claim to property now occupied by others. Her group is turning its attention to a tract of land in Cleveland now partly owned by the Cleveland Clinic that activists say rightfully belongs to former businessman Winston E. Willis. As with the Bruce case in California, advocates say, Willis was deprived not just of his property but also of decades of potential prosperity - a scenario that, repeated many times over, lies at the root of the wealth gap between Whites and African Americans in this nation.

But the Cleveland case, along with many others, may be difficult to press to a successful conclusion, experts said.

Bruce's Beach offered a clear-cut case where a family's historical claim to a property was well documented. The spot in question was once home to a thriving African American resort owned by Charles and Willa Bruce, who endured years of harassment from White neighbors - including threats and intimidation from the Ku Klux Klan - before the city of Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to oust them entirely. The Bruces were paid a pittance and told a park would be built on the site, but the property lay vacant until it was transferred to the state in 1948, and subsequently to Los Angeles County.

In recent years that history has gotten more attention, and after Ward formed the group Justice for Bruce's Beach in 2020, a county supervisor took an interest in the case, as did state officials. It still took months of advocacy to get the land back for the Bruce family, and it even required a change in state law tailored to the property in question.

Few other cases will be so straightforward, said William A. Darity Jr., a scholar at Duke University who co-authored a book on reparations published last year.

"I just think there are thousands of these cases, and a very small percentage of them have the degree of specificity that the Bruce Beach case does where you know exactly who owned the property, how it was taken and by whom," Darity said.

Darity pointed to examples such as the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, where White mobs destroyed a Black business district, killing and injuring hundreds of residents and displacing many more. It would be extremely difficult to untangle how all the properties in question changed hands, Darity said. Determining how to get the current owners to return the properties or pay compensation would create even more hurdles.

Still, the developments at Bruce's Beach have given hope to Aundra Willis Carrasco, whose brother Winston is 82 and residing at an assisted-living facility in Cleveland as his sister works to publicize his case. According to Willis Carrasco, Winston Willis owned multiple thriving businesses around 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland beginning in 1968, before being forced out through a combination of illegal and fraudulent tactics by private developers and city officials and judges who conspired with them. The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic now occupies much of that prime real estate.

"It should be surrounded by the yellow tape they use in law enforcement because 105th and Euclid is the scene of a crime," Willis Carrasco said in an interview. "They never paid him for it, and it was taken from him illegally."

A spokeswoman for the Cleveland Clinic said it had no information, while a city spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Ward said Where Is My Land was considering several possible paths for moving forward with the Willis case in Cleveland but declined to discuss them publicly at this point.

Elsewhere, too, African Americans and their advocates are pressing communities to reckon with and reconcile a history of housing policies that have disproportionately harmed Black Americans. Black people are far less likely than Whites to own land and homes and the generational wealth that goes with them, and the situation has shown little sign of improvement. Black homeownership rates are hovering at their lowest levels since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, reaching 46.4% in the first quarter of this year compared to 75.8% of White families, according to census data.

"This is an important social movement that is challenging this nation to really, really think about how to right these historic wrongs," said Emmitt Y. Riley III, associate professor of Africana studies and political science at DePauw University. "I think this starts the conversation, because no one I think can reasonably conclude that in a country that has been organized around racial inequality, that somehow Blacks were not exploited for their property."

Riley and others questioned whether White Americans are ready to confront the issue in a serious way, even after George Floyd's murder in 2020 and the growing public awareness of the nation's history of racism in policing tactics and other policies.

In some cases, though, elected officials are responding to some degree.

In Minneapolis, lawmakers have passed the Minneapolis 2040 Plan, ambitious housing legislation that includes "Freeway Remediation," a provision that acknowledges the "disparate impact" freeway construction in the city historically has had on communities of color. The plan calls for compensating Black families and descendants affected by the razing of communities of color to build highways. Similarly, officials in Lansing, Mich., are exploring the impact of Interstate 496 on the communities razed to construct it.

Meanwhile, housing advocacy groups in some cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston, have launched mapping projects that trace the history of racial covenants in their cities. The legal language - which typically restricted selling a home to anyone who wasn't White - was used in cities across the United States to keep neighborhoods segregated.

Housing advocates are also targeting the harmful effects of redlining, the practice in which banks declined to lend in certain areas, often lower-income and minority neighborhoods. In Minneapolis, for example, homes in formerly redlined areas underperform the city's $266,500 median assessed value by 25%, according to data from the Mapping Prejudice Project.

After the attention garnered by the Bruce family's experience, California set up a task force to study and recommend reparations for African Americans. The two-year process is meant to address the harms of slavery and systemic racism, according to the California governor's office.

The Bruce family, meanwhile, has chosen for now to lease its property in Manhattan Beach back to Los Angeles County, though terms have not been made public. The property is occupied by a small grassy park and a lifeguard station, and on a recent morning the scene was idyllic as surfers waded into waves of the Pacific and children played in the park. A plaque at the site includes some of the history of the Bruce family.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said the economic harm done by seizing the land in the 1920s is practically incalculable.

Hahn pointed to Manhattan Beach's affluence today. The median price of a home in the town of 35,000 residents - where African Americans make up less than 1% of the population - reached a record $2.9 million in August.

"It's not an exaggeration to say that they would have been millionaires if they had been able to hold on to their property and their successful business," Hahn said. "This was an injustice inflicted not just upon Willa and Charles Bruce, but on generations of their descendants."

A White teacher taught White students about White privilege. It cost him his job.

By Hannah Natanson
A White teacher taught White students about White privilege. It cost him his job.
Teacher Matthew Hawn sits with his dog Marloh in his hometown of Kingsport, Tenn. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Earl Neikirk

KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Matthew Hawn checked his phone to see if the wait was finally over.

It had been five months since he was fired for teaching about White privilege at a high school in rural Tennessee. Two months since he had fought to regain his job at an emotional three-day hearing, becoming a symbol of the acrimonious debate over the way race, racism and history should be taught in America's schools.

Now - nothing. No announcements from the school district about his appeal effort. No messages from his lawyer. No texts from the friends and former colleagues who had sustained him through a lonely half-year of jobless limbo.

Could he return to teaching in his hometown? Apparently no one knew, although an independent hearing officer was supposed to deliver a verdict by the end of the week.

It was now Friday, inching past 4:26 p.m. on an October afternoon.

Hawn, 43, White and balding, sighed. Marloh, his German shepherd, started to whine. Hawn grabbed the leash, because no matter what, he still had to walk the dog.

Shrugging on a gray hoodie against the fall chill, he walked out his front door and down the long, sloped driveway of the house he had grown up in, Marloh tugging at every step.

A lifelong resident of Kingsport, Hawn was well aware his liberal views made him an outlier in his overwhelmingly White, mostly conservative community. But that had never mattered before. He had taught in the Sullivan County school system for 16 years without any trouble. And he had taught the class that got him fired, "Contemporary Issues," for nearly a decade without a single parent complaint.

Then at the start of last school year, he made a pronouncement during a discussion about police shootings that would derail his career. White privilege, he told his nearly all-White class, is "a fact."

Hawn apologized after at least one parent objected. But a few months later, he assigned the Ta-Nehisi Coates essay "The First White President," spurring more parent complaints. This time school officials issued a letter of reprimand to Hawn for one-sided teaching.

After that, Hawn promised to stay away from the topic. But in late April, a student mentioned White privilege during a class discussion about the trial of Derek Chauvin - the White Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd by kneeling on the Black man's neck - and Hawn could not help himself. He navigated to YouTube and pulled up "White Privilege," a scathing and profane four-minute poetry performance by Kyla Jenée Lacey.

"Oh, am I making you uncomfortable?" the Black writer demands at one point. "Try a cramped slave ship."

"I will probably get fired for showing this," Hawn joked before hitting play. Less than a month later, he was.

His firing comes amid a tsunami of conservative outrage about critical race theory, an academic framework for examining systemic racism in the United States that educators contend is rarely taught in public schools.

Hawn said he'd never heard of critical race theory until he was accused of teaching it.

But in May, the same month Hawn was fired, the Tennessee legislature passed a law banning it from its schools and forbidding educators from teaching that "an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive."

At least 11 Republican-led states have now passed laws or approved resolutions censoring what educators can say about race in K-12 classrooms, according to a Washington Post analysis. Dozens more are considering similar policies.

Walking back up the hill toward his house, Hawn nodded to an elderly White neighbor mowing his lawn. The man nodded back, and they struck up a conversation about leaf blowers - Hawn's was on the fritz. The man identified as conservative, like nearly everybody else in Kingsport, but he had once told Hawn he did not agree with the district's decision to fire him.

The interaction reinforced Hawn's feeling, building all morning, that he would get his $60,000-a-year job back. This was his hometown. These were his people. They knew him, and they knew what kind of a teacher he really was.

Hawn's phone buzzed as he was about to step inside the house. It was an email from his lawyer. A glance at the subject line told him it was the verdict. Hawn, too nervous to open the file, forwarded it to a friend who had promised to read it for him.

Then he sat down at his kitchen table to wait a few minutes more.

- - -

Hawn had a reputation at Sullivan Central High for challenging his students' conservative views.

That is why Kyle Simcox, now 22, decided to take Hawn's class in 2016.

Simcox, whose family owns the Virginia farm that flies a tractor-size Confederate flag above Interstate 81, was raised by his grandmother on a diet of coffee, Bill O'Reilly and Fox News.

But six years ago he listened with discomfort as people predicted Caitlyn Jenner would go to hell for transitioning from male to female. He signed up for contemporary issues because he wanted to know: What did it really mean to switch genders?

One of his closest friends, Christian Thomas, now 23, signed up for the class too. He had been told his whole life that the South had been unfairly demonized for its role in the Civil War, that voting Republican was the right thing to do and that the other side was "all nonsense and Communism." He knew Hawn did not see it that way.

A third pal, Drew Robinette, now 23, did not enroll in the course. But he began searching for Hawn between classes, during lunch or after school so he could deliver the latest conservative talking points about the income tax, or which bathrooms transgender people should use. Then Robinette would demand: What do you say to that?

"I would seek him out," Robinette said, "just because I knew he'd disagree." When Hawn bested him, as Robinette said the teacher often did, the teen headed home to his deeply conservative father and uncle to ask for more arguments to throw at Hawn the next day.

By then, Hawn was used to this sort of thing.

Sullivan Central's small number of progressive teens often chose Hawn's classes, as did students who identified as LGBTQ, partly because Hawn kept a blue-and-yellow equality sticker pasted to the filing cabinet by his desk. But every year, a large portion of his contemporary issues class was White, conservative and spoiling for a chance to debate a real live liberal.

The makeup of the class was not surprising in Kingsport, a town of about 54,000 nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains that is about 90 percent White. The median household income is roughly $43,000, well below the national average, and most Kingsport residents work at a large coal gasification plant owned by Eastman Chemical. The town is staunchly Republican, mirroring Sullivan County, where 75 percent of voters chose Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

The high school was even less diverse in the final years Hawn taught there: Its student body was approximately 95 percent White, 2 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent Black and Asian.

The politics were just as lopsided, said Simcox, who eventually came out as a Democrat. During the 2016 election, Simcox stuck a Clinton-Kaine bumper sticker to his car - until other students ripped it off and burned it.

The general hostility to liberal ideas did not bother Hawn. He loved teaching teens like Simcox and Thomas, or spending his free periods arguing with cocksure kids like Robinette. The students reminded him of himself.

Hawn had been a Young Republican as a teenager, so devoted he rose extra early each morning to watch Rush Limbaugh. He grew up believing that everybody has the same opportunity in the United States and that anyone who fails did not work hard enough.

His political transformation began during the Iraq War, shortly after he graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a degree in finance. Judging the conflict unnecessary, he started looking for other perspectives and wound up reading about everything from the Black Panther movement to universal health care. He thinks his Type I diabetes - he was diagnosed at age 13 - also contributed to his shift to liberalism, because it led him to empathize with other people's pain.

Hawn, who always wanted to be a teacher, landed a job with Sullivan County Schools in 2005 after a stint in construction. At first he taught only economics, but later added classes on world history, personal finance and contemporary issues.

The latter, focused on current events and with no set curriculum, soon became his favorite course to teach. Often, he let the students choose what to discuss. The open environment fostered exchanges like one Hawn had with Simcox in 2018 about then-President Trump's request for a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Simcox, an ardent supporter of the military, argued for the idea.

"But most democracies don't do this," both men remember Hawn saying. "Usually countries like China or Russia or North Korea do military parades."

Simcox, whose relatives have served in the Army and who would serve himself after high school, lost his temper. "I'm out of here, you leftist snowflake!" he shouted, and stomped off.

Hawn waited until the next day and raised the topic again. If you care so much for the military, he asked, why not take that money for the parade - because it's going to cost a lot of money - and give it to the VA?

The question, Simcox said, hit like a punch, leaving him without an answer.

Robinette remembers a similar moment during an argument about fiscal policy, when Hawn explained that Tennessee's high sales tax led some in his family to do their grocery shopping just over the border in Virginia, where groceries are taxed less because the state also taxes income. Robinette, still a fervent Republican who voted for Trump in 2020, said that was the first time he considered there might be drawbacks to Tennessee's disdain for an income tax.

And Thomas, who also remains conservative although he dislikes Trump, said he will never forget a debate with Hawn over whether the United States should welcome Syrian refugees. Midway through arguing against the idea, Thomas stopped talking. He realized he did not actually agree with what he was saying.

"It made me think, from that point on, that I can change my mind on issues," said Thomas, who is majoring in history at East Tennessee State University because Hawn's class inspired a love for the subject.

Before meeting Hawn, Thomas said, "I don't know if I could have been the type of guy to listen to other people's arguments, or see from their point of view."

- - -

Hawn discovered the concept of White privilege during President Barack Obama's tenure, he said, and began mentioning it in class.

He always presented White privilege as an incontestable truth, although he said he urged students to do their own research and challenge him if they disagreed.

His classes began focusing more on race during the Trump years, especially after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and Floyd's murder three years later.

At the same time, though, the tolerance for those kinds of discussions was shrinking in Kingsport, said Gloria Oster, 68, who taught high school English to Hawn and thousands of other students in the town before retiring in 2005.

During her 30-year career in the classroom, Oster said, she assigned Sullivan County students books she thought would challenge them. That included Toni Morrison's acclaimed "Song of Solomon," which details a young Black man's quest for cultural identity. Once, Oster said, a White mother approached her to complain about the inclusion of the book on a summer reading list, but concluded she trusted Oster to teach it the right way.

Now that parent would probably post a diatribe to Facebook, Oster said. Or complain to the superintendent.

"Parents have just gotten to be too hyper about any little thing that doesn't align with their political beliefs," said Oster, who identifies as a liberal. "They don't want to allow their children to entertain any other ideas or notions that might run counter to what they believe."

When Oster read about Hawn's conflicts with the school system, she reached out to him on Facebook to offer her support. They began getting together for lunch or dinner at local restaurants.

Eventually, Hawn told her about the first mistake he had made - and how it triggered the torrent of trouble that followed. It came in late August 2020, as he was trying to upload a video of the day's contemporary issues lesson to Google Classrooms.

In the video, Hawn compared the fates of Jacob Blake and Kyle Rittenhouse. Blake, a Black man in his late 20s, was shot seven times in the back and side by police in Kenosha, Wis., leaving him partially paralyzed. Rittenhouse, a White teenager from Illinois, drove to the same area of Wisconsin and shot and killed two men, wounding a third, before surrendering, unharmed, to the same police force. A jury later acquitted Rittenhouse of all charges under the state's self-defense law.

"My question to you, and this is going to be a tough one," Hawn said to his class on Aug. 27, 2020, "is how is that not a definition of White privilege?"

Tired after a long day of hybrid teaching, Hawn accidentally uploaded the video to the folder for his personal finance students, where a parent spotted it. The parent immediately contacted Sullivan County administrators to complain.

And someone slipped a 17-minute snippet of the video to Chad Conner, 48, a lifelong Sullivan County resident who runs a marketing agency and is known for his participation in town and county politics. Conner was stunned by what he saw.

Hawn was leaving no room for discussion, Conner said, instead forcing students to accept his personal view of what happened in the Blake and Rittenhouse cases and what it meant for the country. Conner, a Navy veteran, said he believes White privilege may exist in some cases, but that it is not an appropriate subject for teachers to discuss in school.

"I don't think color should be an issue ever in the classroom," Conner said in an interview. "I don't have kids, but I do have to live in the community with these kids. . . . I'm very concerned with what they grow up to believe and what their outlook on this country is."

Conner later posted the video of Hawn to Facebook.

"Local teacher teaching kids about why they have white privilege and why the cops should be defunded," Conner wrote. "Is this acceptable behavior for someone responsible for shaping the minds of our children?"

Sullivan Central's principal, Mark Foster, pulled Hawn aside at a football game the next day. As Hawn recalled it, the principal asked, "Why are you talking about White privilege in personal finance?" Not long after that, Brent Palmer, the school system's assistant director of schools for personnel and operations, sent a warning email.

"In many of your statements, 'this is a fact,' you leave little room for discussion," Palmer wrote. "Going forward, I would ask that you provide space in your discussions for students to objectively express their various opinions."

A lawyer for the school system, Chris McCarty, said Palmer, the principal and other officials could not discuss the case.

Hawn removed the video from the personal finance folder and apologized to those students and their parents. He also stopped the contemporary issues lesson on Blake and Rittenhouse, worried the topic was too sensitive to discuss in a virtual format. Hawn would pick it back up when he returned to teaching fully in person, he decided. But he never got that chance.

Just after winter break, a Trump-supporting mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, leaving five people dead in its wake and more than 130 police officers injured. In response, Hawn assigned his contemporary issue students the Coates essay on the 2016 election, in which the well-known Black writer argues that White racism drove Trump's ascendance.

Four days later, a parent emailed the school board to complain that the article's explicit language was inappropriate and that Hawn had failed to offer an opposing viewpoint.

On Feb. 3, the school system issued a letter of reprimand to Hawn for "neglect of duty and insubordination." He had violated the Tennessee teacher code of ethics, which states that an educator shall "not unreasonably deny the students access to varying points of view," Ingrid Deloach, the assistant director of Sullivan County Schools, told him.

"Your job is not to teach one perspective," Deloach wrote. "Your job is also not to ensure students simply adopt your own personal perspective."

Hawn fumed at this characterization of his teaching style. He had planned to assign several more stories about Trump's election, he said, including a piece from The Hill that examined Trump's skillful use of social media in firing up his base.

Hawn appealed the reprimand, appearing before the school board on March 4 to argue it should be removed from his personnel file. But the board was unpersuaded, voting near-unanimously to uphold the sanction. Only one board member, Hawn's former AP History teacher, abstained.

Then came late April.

The trial of Chauvin had just wrapped up, and students in Hawn's fourth-period contemporary issues class wanted to talk about the guilty verdict.

Faith Jones, now 19, remembered asking: What if Chauvin had not been found guilty? Wouldn't that have been an example of White privilege?

Hawn decided to let the poet Kyla Jenée Lacey speak. He clicked to YouTube.

Jones and several other students in the class later said they remember a group of White boys throwing up their hands in anger during the poem.

"The video is definitely very confrontational and doesn't sugarcoat, the point of it is to be in-your-face-harsh," said a White 18-year-old in the class, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of backlash from her conservative family. "I think that's what really upset the boys."

One of those boys complained to administrators, his classmates said. Within two weeks, Hawn was fired.

In the letter of dismissal, Director of Schools David Cox called the Lacey video "inappropriate" and wrote that Hawn had failed to learn anything from the previous reprimand.

Hawn wrote a letter to school officials begging them to reconsider.

He now realized, he wrote, that his discussions of White privilege "would be more appropriate for a college level . . . course" and promised to expose his students to "varying points of views."

It did not work. In June, the school board voted 6 to 1 to uphold his termination.

Hawn appealed again, sending his case to an independent hearing officer.

If he got his job back, Hawn knew things would be different. He'd read how Tennessee's new law imposes financial penalties - which can stretch into the millions - on school districts whose teachers break the rules, and how offending educators can lose their teaching licenses. He would have to avoid any mention of White privilege, he decided. He would probably have to steer clear of race altogether.

Still, even in a watered-down, limited way, Hawn longed to teach again.

He prepared frantically for a three-day hearing in late August, at which he and roughly a dozen former students - including Simcox and Thomas - testified that he was a devoted teacher who deserved another chance.

They were countered by a teenager, identified only as "T.S.," who was in class on the day Hawn played the Lacey video. The teen said that he and his friends felt belittled by Hawn for voicing objections to the poem.

"Some students disagreed with the video," T.S. said, according to a hearing transcript obtained by The Washington Post. "Hawn blew it off like it didn't need to be discussed."

Citing T.S.'s testimony, the school system argued in a filing submitted to the independent hearing officer that it was not Kingsport that had grown less tolerant of opposing political views.

It was Hawn.

- - -

The wait was over.

Hawn, who had been paying his bills through a GoFundMe set up by his sister, listened as a friend relayed the hearing officer's verdict over the phone.

The 10-page ruling concluded that he had "acted unprofessionally . . . was insubordinate . . . and [failed] to [present] varying viewpoints, despite knowing he was to do so."

Hawn was not getting his job back.

He called his father, Mike Hawn, who had been on edge all day. The retired systems analyst for Eastman Chemical thought his son was wrong to have played a video that included so much swearing. But the 68-year-old thought everything Matthew said about White privilege was true. One of his other children, Leanne Carrington, was married to a Black man. She had shared hard stories about the way her husband was treated because of his skin color.

"Hey," Matthew said to his father, working to steady his voice. "They're still letting me go. They upheld the decision."

His dad paused. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. I mean, I'm disappointed, but," he said, trailing off. "You know."

His next call was to one of his sisters, Laura Hawn, who asked if he would keep fighting.

"I don't know," Matthew said. "I mean, I guess I will. I mean, right now I can't . . . right now, I feel kind of defeated."

In the coming weeks, Hawn would file yet another appeal to the school board - try one more time to get his job back.

But that Friday, after calling his mother, all he could do was sit in silence at his kitchen table.

His head slumped forward until it reached his outstretched arms. He let it rest there, hiding his tears.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

How is the GOP's coronavirus recklessness compatible with being pro-life?

By michael gerson
How is the GOP's coronavirus recklessness compatible with being pro-life?

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, and thereafter

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By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- Under the intellectual and moral leadership of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Republicans in the House have done their best to set a standard of deadly misinformation, poisonous bigotry and mental vacuity. But Republicans in the Senate -- possessing greater intellectual kilowattage and fewer excuses for cowardice -- have recently taken center stage in the GOP festival of small-mindedness.

During last week's budget negotiations, and as America prepared for the full-scale arrival of the omicron coronavirus variant, every present Senate Republican voted to "defund" the federal vaccine mandate on businesses, the military and the federal workforce. This indicated a political party now so intimidated by its liberty caucus that senators such as Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine felt compelled to bend the knee. It was a collective declaration of utter madness.

This is the strangest political cause of my lifetime. In the midst of a public health emergency that has taken more than 1 of every 500 American lives and which has reduced average life expectancy by 1.67 years (reversing about 14 years of life expectancy gains), Republican officials are actively discouraging citizens from taking routine medical precautions for their own welfare. This is not just a disagreement about policy. It is a political movement organized around increasing the risk of death to your neighbors, particularly your ill and elderly ones. And while it is certainly selfish, is not ultimately self-interested. Fatalities have increased especially in Republican-leaning portions of the country. A death cult has adopted a death wish.

For the "don't tread on me" crowd, this is part of a consistent ethic of death. By some recent measures, almost a third of Republicans say political violence may be necessary to "save" the country. Most of these advocates have spent many years being desensitized to bloodshed; they have been told that a portion of their fellow citizens are the embodiment of evil and bent on their destruction. A philosophy of freedom has been transformed into a means of dehumanization.

This sets up a serious conflict at the heart of Republican ideology -- at least for those who still put stock in political consistency. The other visible wing of Trumpism is made up of antiabortion evangelicals, whose support explains much of Donald Trump's political rise and endurance. But whatever view you take of the antiabortion movement, it is essentially communitarian, not libertarian. There is no rational way to advocate this viewpoint that does not involve the community of the born defending the interests of a voiceless, helpless group of nascent humans.

In fact, this communitarian case is one of the main ways the antiabortion movement remained viable during the decades it was encouraging the selection of conservative judges who find Roe v. Wade an abomination of judicial overreach (which it is). Influenced by Catholic social teaching -- and asserting historical continuity with the civil rights movement -- many Republican leaders adopted a tone of inclusion in their discourse on abortion. They talked of a "culture of life" in which the unborn were protected by law and by love. They urged a more expansive definition of the human community.

The core of the Trump movement has always been more interested in political conspiracies, White identity politics, persecution fantasies and disdain for elites. Remember that Trump himself was initially supportive of "partial-birth" abortion. As a presidential candidate, however, Trump issued one of U.S. history's most effective political bribes: He set out a list of conservative judicial nominees for the Supreme Court, promised to pick from among them and then kept his word.

Now, with a conservative legal challenge to Roe nearing fruition, antiabortion advocates are understandably pleased about their political alliance with the anti-government populists. Yet even after the effective overturn of Roe, years of political battles await at both the state and federal levels. And it is hard to see how a GOP increasingly dedicated to needless death can carry an antiabortion message. The effective end of Roe would be an ideal point for responsible pro-lifers to assert their position on abortion as part of a broader culture of life, including the unborn and their mothers, the old and ill, people with intellectual disabilities and refugees fleeing oppression. Instead, in the Trump era, the state of Texas is taking the messaging lead on the topic, ensuring that the antiabortion movement seems as radical, punitive and vicious as possible.

How can the anti-vaccine ideals of "my body, my choice" Republicanism -- which refuses even the easiest and safest sacrifices to protect the life of a neighbor -- coexist with a "culture of life"? One is a reckless purveyor of needless death. The other, at its best, is a movement of human rights. It is clear enough which is ascendant. The GOP has become the party of death.

- - -

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

In Georgia, Republicans' Faustian bargain with Trump is catching up with them

By eugene robinson
In Georgia, Republicans' Faustian bargain with Trump is catching up with them

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, and thereafter

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By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Anyone who thinks the Republican Party is some kind of well-oiled juggernaut ready to steamroll Democrats in November might want to check out what's happening in Georgia, where the GOP is busy trying to steamroll itself.

Gov. Brian Kemp, R, who is seeking reelection, got bad news last week when he learned that his likely Democratic opponent will be Stacey Abrams, who came within a hair of beating him in 2018. He got worse news on Monday, when former senator David Perdue -- defeated in his reelection bid in January -- announced he will challenge Kemp in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

In what for decades has been a reliably red state, the Republican Party has lost both U.S. Senate seats to Democrats and stands a real chance of losing the governor's mansion as well. And all of this reflects the GOP's devolution into a cult of personality devoted to former president Donald Trump -- a nationwide phenomenon that could affect key races elsewhere as well.

It is true that the Democratic Party has been gaining strength in Georgia for some time. It is also true that Abrams is a singularly brilliant organizer and electrifying campaigner. But Kemp should be cruising toward another term, and likely would be if not for Trump.

When President Joe Biden narrowly won the state last year, Kemp -- long an enthusiastic, MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporter -- showed some integrity and refused to go along with Trump's false claims of voter fraud. Ever since, Trump has been incensed with him and bent on revenge.

Trump wants to see Abrams defeated, he said in a statement last week, "but it will be hard to do with Brian Kemp, because the MAGA base will just not vote for him after what he did with respect to Election Integrity and two horribly run elections, for President and then two Senate seats."

Actually, it was Trump who lost those Senate seats for the GOP in January runoff balloting by questioning the legitimacy of Georgia's voting process and encouraging his supporters not to vote. But, of course, Trump blames Kemp, because anything that goes wrong always has to be someone else's fault.

While regularly trashing Kemp in the pompous statements he issues from Mar-a-Lago, Trump has been encouraging Perdue to challenge the incumbent. When they appeared together at a rally in September, Trump called Perdue a "great guy" and asked him, "Are you going to run for governor?"

The lesson other Republicans across the nation are meant to learn is that unless they go along with Trump's "big lie" about the 2020 election supposedly being "stolen," they will pay a price.

Perdue clearly has been paying attention. Georgia Republicans must be united to defeat Abrams, he said in a Twitter video announcing his candidacy. "Unfortunately, today we are divided, and Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger are to blame." Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state, refused Trump's demand that he somehow "find" just enough votes so that he, rather than Biden, would win the state.

"Instead of protecting our elections," Perdue said of Kemp, "he caved to Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority, and gave Joe Biden free rein."

None of that is true, except in the make-believe world of MAGA-land. Here on planet Earth, recounts and an audit showed that there was no voter fraud in Georgia and that Biden won the state fair and square. And those Senate seats would probably still be in the GOP column if Trump hadn't told Republicans that their votes wouldn't be counted fairly and that they might as well not bother.

Kemp might well defeat Perdue in the primary, despite Trump's machinations. Kemp is familiar to Georgia Republicans, having spent two terms as secretary of state -- and having presided over election process changes that Abrams claims were responsible for her narrow defeat in 2018. As of July, he had already reportedly amassed $12 million in campaign funds.

But he might have to spend so heavily against Perdue that he could have a depleted war chest in a general election against Abrams, a prodigious fundraiser. And does anyone doubt that a primary victory by Kemp would be spun by Trump as yet another "rigged" election? Does anyone think Trump would be big enough to advise Republicans to unite behind Kemp, whom he so despises? Or is he more likely, once again, to tell them that their votes won't matter?

The GOP had the chance to make a definitive break with Trump after the Capitol insurrection in January. The party decided to stick with him -- and now it's stuck with him.

That's the thing about Faustian bargains. They rarely end well.

- - -

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

The goodness of Bob Dole

By george f. will
The goodness of Bob Dole

GEORGE F. WILL COLUMN

SPECIAL COLUMN. Advance for release Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, and thereafter

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By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON -- His voice, flat as the prairie from which he rose to prominence, proclaimed what Bob Dole was: a Midwesterner, a man of the middle of the country and of the political spectrum. Like another Midwesterner -- a contemporary -- Hubert Humphrey, Dole was a senator who came agonizingly close to seizing the presidential brass ring of politics.

Dole, who could have become the United States' 41st chief executive, was born in Russell, Kan., 270 miles west of the Missouri birthplace of the 33rd, Harry S. Truman, another plain-spoken son of the Middle Border. Elected to Congress in 1960, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, Dole served during eight other presidencies.

If he had won the Republicans' 1988 nomination, he almost certainly would have won the White House because Americans then wanted something more like a third Ronald Reagan term than a first Michael Dukakis term. Dole probably would have won that nomination if he had won New Hampshire's primary. And he could have, if he had campaigned as what he really wasn't -- a fervent conservative. He might have won anti-tax New Hampshire if he had made a "no new taxes" pledge, the making of which later helped his opponent, George H.W. Bush, win the presidency, and the breaking of which helped Bush lose it.

Dole finally won a Republican nomination too late, in 1996. He then would have been the oldest person -- 73 -- ever elected to a first term.

Dole was never one of those puffed-up politicians who constantly act as though they are unveiling statues of themselves. He had a Midwestern cheerfulness -- see Ronald Reagan, of Dixon, Ill. -- about the United States' possibilities, but his mordant, sometimes acidic wit fit a man with some grievances against life's close calls.

If he had been a few yards away from where he was on that Italian hill on April 14, 1945, or if the war in Europe had ended 25 days earlier, he would have escaped the severe wound that left him in pain the rest of his years. A few thousand more Ohio and Mississippi votes in 1976 would have made Dole vice president.

But his aptitudes were not those of an executive. The presidency is a fundamentally rhetorical office; rhetoric can make mighty its rather meager de jure powers. Dole was unrhetorical -- almost anti-rhetorical.

In one of his three campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, an earnest grade school pupil asked him a question about acid rain. Dole's full answer was: "That bill's in markup." The child must have looked dazed, but Dole could not help himself. Long acculturation in the legislative branch rendered him fluent in, but only in, Senate-speak, a dialect unintelligible to normal Americans. Uncomfortable with a text, he spoke easily only in the conversational, sometimes cryptic discourse by which colleagues in a small, face-to-face legislative setting communicate with each other.

List the most important American public servants who never became president. Two, perhaps the top two, were named Marshall: John, chief justice for 34 years, and George, soldier and diplomat. Others were jurists -- Roger Taney and Earl Warren, were, Lord knows, consequential -- as were some legislators, such as the Great Triumvirate: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun.

But few congressional careers loom large. This is because legislative accomplishments are collaborative, the result of blurry compromises presented in pastels rather than sharp pictures painted in bold strokes of primary colors. Dole's legislative life was the political life as Plutarch described it:

"They are wrong who think that politics is like an ocean voyage or a military campaign, something to be done with some particular end in view, something which leaves off as soon as that end is reached. It is not a public chore, to be got over with. It is a way of life. It is the life of a domesticated political and social creature who is born with a love for public life, with a desire for honor, with a feeling for his fellows."

The melancholy dimension of Dole's life was not that he failed to attain the presidency, for which he was not well-suited, but that in 1996 in quest of it, he left the Senate he loved and where he excelled. When Democrats considered offering their 1948 presidential nomination to Eisenhower, taciturn Sam Rayburn, House speaker, said of him: "Good man, but wrong business." Rayburn's words were wrong about Ike but would have been right about Dole the presidential aspirant. Two of those words are especially apposite: good man.

- - -

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2021, Washington Post Writers Group

How we deal with economic problems says a great deal about what we value

By e.j. dionne jr.
How we deal with economic problems says a great deal about what we value

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

Advance for release Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, and thereafter

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For Print Use Only. WRITETHRU: In 8th graf, swaps in new first sentence (now reads; "By contrast, even a slimmed-down Build Back Better bill would expand health coverage by some 4 million... "

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- Our political dialogue is distorted by the disconnect between discussions of economics and talk about values.

Sure, you can find scores of politicians who have recited the words "budgets are moral documents." But a sound bite does not an argument make.

The prevailing tendency is to break up our conversations into particular economic problems (inflation and economic growth), "values" issues (which tend to be abortion, LGBTQ rights and racial justice), and spending programs (these days, the ones in the Build Back Better bill).

But how we deal with economic problems says a great deal about what we value. Start with those who would have the Federal Reserve immediately slam down on the economic brakes by raising interest rates. What they won't admit is that they place a much higher priority on taming inflation than in confronting the suffering that an almost certainly premature slowdown would impose on lower income workers just beginning to earn higher wages.

Similarly, those who blame inflation on the economic rescue package President Joe Biden and the Democrats pushed through in March choose to ignore how much that package did to improve the standard of living of so many Americans, especially the least advantaged.

A comparable logic apples to the debate over Build Back Better. It should be informed by a comparison of what Republicans chose to do when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, and what Democrats are trying to do now with their tenuous trifecta.

The GOP focused on two big things: Slashing taxes on corporations and the wealthy and trying (fortunately, unsuccessfully) to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have deprived some 20 million Americans of health insurance coverage. "Smaller government" (although not a smaller deficit) would be their way of describing their goals. A government friendlier to the best-off and harsher toward the least-privileged would be another.

By contrast, even a slimmed-down Build Back Better bill would expand health coverage by some 4 million additional Americans, and perhaps more, continue the expansions in the child tax credit that has already cut child poverty roughly in half, slash the costs of childcare for most families, and establish universal pre-K programs. How's that for "family values"?

The bill also invests a record amount of money in battling climate change, and significant sums in housing affordability, workforce training and higher education.

It's not surprising that Republicans want to talk about "big spending" and leave it at that. But if Democratic politicians are incapable of shifting the conversation to the terrain of values - care for children, upward mobility, shared economic growth, enhanced educational opportunities, health care for everyone - they should find another line of work.

Of course, whenever the issue of framing the political debate arises, we can't ignore the role of the media. Political commentary is, by its nature, episodic, headline-driven, and subject to the distortions introduced by pre-conceptions.

I should note that I know what I'm talking about because I have committed all of these sins.

The current media environment complicates matters further, since right-wing outlets and mainstream sources of news are engaged in very different enterprises.

Conservative and far right outlets are single-mindedly opposed to Democrats and progressives and happy to pick up any stone to throw at Biden.

They have no qualms about declaring in the morning that inflation is the administration's biggest failure and turning smartly in the afternoon to slowed employment growth. By evening, they'll be bashing Democrats on Critical Race Theory, the schools, or covid-19.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media pride themselves on reporting "both sides" and challenging whoever is in power. Even Democratic-leaning commentators regularly express frustration with Biden for 1) not being progressive enough, or 2) being too progressive, or 3) not being tough enough on his Republican foes, or 4) not talking about the right issues, or 5) not getting out there enough, period.

It's true that the mainstream media must do far more to confront the Republican Party's challenge to the democratic system itself. Nevertheless, political actors - this means you, Democrats -- have a responsibility to play the hand they're dealt.

Yes, Biden and his party will be judged in large part by how well they deal with the overriding issues - the pandemic, prices, jobs. The media cannot avoid covering these matters relentlessly.

But they should also pay attention not just to whether problems are solved, but also to the values reflected in which problems politicians choose to confront and how they go about it. Republicans are skilled in moving arguments to the terrain of "values." Democrats should not grant them a monopoly in this sphere.

- - -

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2021, Washington Post Writers Group

The mean girls in Congress just can't quit each other

By kathleen parker
The mean girls in Congress just can't quit each other

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Dec. 05, and thereafter

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By Kathleen Parker

First, it was the Squad. Now, it seems, we have the Plastics.

I'm referring to the four-way kerfuffle that began when Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., made an anti-Muslim remark about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Then Rep. Nancy Mace , R-S.C., tweeted her disapproval of Boebert, which prompted the inimitable Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to defend Boebert by smearing Mace as "the trash in the GOP conference."

Well, dang, ya'll, what's in the ladies-lounge coffee over there? With all the teeth-baring and chain-yanking, somebody must have spiked it with testosterone. Before you know it, they'll be wearing animal headgear and breastplates and breaching the U.S. Capitol.

The Squad, you'll recall, was the name given initially to four super-left Democratic women elected to the House in recent years: Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are women of color and two, Omar and Tlaib, are Muslim, which may partly explain, but does not in any way excuse, why Boebert and Greene refer to them as the "Jihad Squad."

One needn't be a great wit to create a nickname but being witless is surely helpful to hurling racial and religious insults. As to the latter, Boebert and Greene proudly excel.

Which brings us to the Plastics, the infamous high school clique in the 2004 movie, "Mean Girls," about a bunch of bullying young women in high school. The Twitter war that evolved among Boebert, Greene, Mace and Omar has all the markings of chick cliques gone wild. I wish it weren't so, but what else to make of such underage behavior by some of the nation's most visible females?

I suppose we could call it embarrassing, though there's no evidence that anyone but us bystanders has suffered so much as a flushed cheek.

To think that the Republican Party was once home to greats such as Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. Among other achievements, she was the first public figure to challenge Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist fearmongering in her 1950 "Declaration of Conscience" speech. Just imagine, if we still can.

That said, today's four gladiators aren't equally errant in the ways of manners and protocol. Omar was the victim of more than one inexcusable racist, Islamophobic attack by Boebert. The first came when Rep. Paul A. Gosar, R-Ariz., tweeted an anime video showing him stabbing Ocasio-Cortez in the neck. As the House considered censuring Gosar for his appalling judgment, Boebert tried to defend the indefensible, saying that stripping Gosar of his committee assignments would be unfair since Omar "the Jihad Squad member from Minnesota" sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee "while praising terrorists."

Logic and decency are not, shall we say, her strong suits.

Later, Boebert told a story at a private event about boarding an elevator when a Capitol police officer came running toward her. When Boebert realized Omar was standing nearby, she quipped to the officer: "She doesn't have a backpack, we should be fine."

Mace, who might have kept her heels glued to the high road, then entered the fray to defend Omar following Boebert's tasteless elevator remark. But you know what they say: Never wrestle with pigs. They have more experience in the mud and, besides, they like it there.

So along came Greene, no slouch in the mudslinging department. A devout Trumpian, she alternately praised the former president and called Mace "the trash of the GOP conference." Those would be fighting words without what happened next, but it got far worse. Greene accused Mace of not being a true conservative because, she claimed, Mace is "pro-abort."

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. What?

Greene's lucky she escaped with a mere counter-tweet from Mace instead of something more fitting a woman who was the first female graduate of the Citadel. Mace is, indeed, pro-life with exceptions for rape and incest, perhaps because she is, herself, a rape survivor.

Then something rather splendid happened. Greene tweeted at Mace, "your out of your league." Mace simply tweeted back the correction: "*you're."

Anyone who will plant a flag for "you're" instead of "your" as a contraction of "you are" has my undying admiration and loyalty. (I have a cartoon in my office in which a smart dame says to her courtier: "You had me at you're.")

Suffice to say, the "conversation" devolved from there, or, depending on one's point of view, became even more delicious. Mace ended the exchange (for now) with "Bless her f------ heart," which is clear enough, but usually expressed more modestly by Southerners as simply "Bless her heart."

Bless all their little hearts, I say, and the wee spirits that guide their fingers across keyboards in a land called Twitter.

May they all receive a biography of Margaret Chase Smith as a gift for the holidays and may they begin their New Year's resolutions accordingly.

- - -

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

The media treats Biden as badly as - or worse than - Trump. Here's proof.

By dana milbank
The media treats Biden as badly as - or worse than - Trump. Here's proof.

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, and thereafter

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By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON -- A sampling of headlines atop the influential Politico Playbook newsletter over the past month:

"Let the Democratic freakout begin."

"Dems start to face the hard questions."

"Does the WH owe Larry Summers an apology?"

"The other big intra-Democratic fight."

"No BIF bump for Biden."

"White House braces for a bad CBO score."

" . . . Biden dithers . . ."

"Biden tries to calm nerves about 2024."

"The case for why Biden is screwed."

Even the extraordinary news that jobless claims had dropped to the lowest level in 52 years came with a qualifier: "BUT, BUT, BUT . . . don't expect [the numbers] to immediately change Americans' negative perceptions of the economy."

It isn't just Politico. My impression of other outlets' coverage of President Biden had been much the same: unrelentingly negative. Was it my imagination?

No, it wasn't.

Artificial intelligence can now measure the negativity with precision. At my request, Forge.ai, a data analytics unit of the information company FiscalNote, combed through more than 200,000 articles -- tens of millions of words -- from 65 news websites (newspapers, network and cable news, political publications, news wires and more) to do a "sentiment analysis" of coverage. Using algorithms that give weight to certain adjectives based on their placement in the story, it rated the coverage Biden received in the first 11 months of 2021 and the coverage President Donald Trump got in the first 11 months of 2020.

The findings, painstakingly assembled by FiscalNote vice president Bill Frischling, confirmed my fear: My colleagues in the media are serving as accessories to the murder of democracy.

After a honeymoon of slightly positive coverage in the first three months of the year, Biden's press for the past four months has been as bad as -- and for a time worse than -- the coverage Trump received for the same four months of 2020.

Think about that. In 2020, Trump presided over a worst-in-world pandemic response that caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths; held a superspreader event at the White House and got covid-19 himself; praised QAnon adherents; embraced violent White supremacists; waged a racist campaign against Black Lives Matter demonstrators; attempted to discredit mail-in voting; and refused to accept his defeat in a free and fair election, leading eventually to the violence of Jan. 6 and causing tens of millions to accept the "big lie," the worst of more than 30,000 he told in office.

And yet Trump got press coverage as favorable as, or better than, Biden is getting today. Sure, Biden has had his troubles, with the delta variant, Afghanistan and inflation. But the economy is rebounding impressively, he has signed major legislation, and he has restored some measure of decency, calm and respect for democratic institutions.

We need a skeptical, independent press. But how about being partisans for democracy? The country is in an existential struggle between self-governance and an authoritarian alternative. And we in the news media, collectively, have given equal, if not slightly more favorable, treatment to the authoritarians.

Sentiment analysis ranks coverage from entirely negative (-1.0) to entirely positive (1.0), and most outlets are in a relatively tight band between -0.1 and 0.1. Overall, Biden was slightly positive or neutral for seven months, ranging from .02 to -.01. That plummeted to -.07 in August -- a lower number than Trump hit in all of 2020 (or 2019) -- and has been between -.04 and -.03 ever since. Trump never left a narrow range of -.03 to -.04. (The data set doesn't go far enough back to make a comparison to Trump's first year in office.)

Also noteworthy: Trump got roughly twice as much coverage in 2020 as Biden has received in 2021. And the coverage of Biden is noticeably more negative than the tone of news coverage overall. Predictably, Breitbart and the New York Post are among the most negative outlets, but even liberal ones such as HuffPost and Salon have been negative. (The Post was the closest to neutral, at .0006.)

How to explain why Biden would be treated more harshly than a president who actively subverted democracy? Perhaps journalists, pressured by Trump's complaints about the press, pulled punches. Perhaps media outlets, after losing the readership and viewership Trump brought, think tough coverage will generate interest.

I suspect my peers across the media have fallen victim to our asymmetric politics. Biden governs under traditional norms, while Republicans run a shocking campaign to delegitimize him with one fabricated charge after another. This week, Republicans threatened a government shutdown to block Biden's vaccine mandates, after a year of efforts to discourage vaccination. Yet, incredibly, they're simultaneously blaming Biden for coronavirus deaths -- deaths occurring almost entirely among the unvaccinated. "More people have died of covid under President Biden than did in all of 2020," proclaimed Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), GOP conference chairman.

As Biden might say: C'mon, man.

Too many journalists are caught in a mindless neutrality between democracy and its saboteurs, between fact and fiction. It's time to take a stand.

- - -

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

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