LONG-STANDING, UNMET PRIORITIES ARE EVEN MORE CRITICAL NOW: Now, as much as ever, the legislature should take the steps to accomplish the following: Support implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report released by Superior Court Judge David Lee, so the state meets its constitutional mandate to provide EVERY student with an opportunity for a sound basic education in public schools – no matter where they live. In the more than two decades since the Leandro ruling North Carolina has, according to the report, lost ground in meeting the court order and our constitutional requirement rather than moving closer to it. Expand Medicaid to the 650,000 working North Carolina citizens who are currently denied access to health care. It is no exaggeration that this is a life-and-death matter. It is particularly critical as hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed citizens now have nowhere else to turn for healthcare coverage. Approve the requests state Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell presented in her March 26 letter to the governor and legislative leaders. They will help assure the fall election will be open and as many voters as possible will have the opportunity to cast ballots.
NICHOL: PANDEMIC ADDS TO NC'S ALREADY HIGH HUNGER RATE: In 2019, over 1.5 million Tar Heels couldn’t get enough to eat. One in seven. Nearly a half-million were kids. One of every five children. We had the tenth highest hunger rate among the states. We’re fourth worst for hunger among seniors. More than once in the last decade, Greensboro was tagged by the federal government as America’s hungriest city. Then came the coronavirus. Food insecurity – like poverty, unemployment, and loss of health care coverage – has exploded. We don’t yet have clear numbers for NC. But a new national Brookings study concludes food hardship, particularly for children, has risen “to an extent unprecedented in modern times. Twenty-three percent of households (now) lack money to get enough food, compared with 16% at the worst of the Great Recession." It’s tougher for families with children. Almost 35% of them don’t have enough to eat, up from 21% at the depth of the recession. The study also found “41% of mothers with children (12 and under) reported food insecurity since the onset of the epidemic.” The numbers are likely worse in North Carolina. They always are. As our lawmakers brag, year after year, of a purportedly colossal state economy, we regularly have one of the highest hunger rates in the country. Charlotte’s emergency food network, Loaves and Fishes, saw a 240% increase in April. Tina Postel reports “demand is through the roof with people figuring out how to navigate the system for the first time.” Some are past donors and food drive participants. Charlotte’s Crisis Assistance Ministry is aiding families who never imagined they’d be seeking help. They’ve developed a new program for people who were homeless, but temporarily living in hotels (1,292 families in one month).
BERGER SHOULD BACK THE GOVERNOR'S PANDEMIC PLAN: North Carolina needs just one person in charge. Voters made a clear choice with more than 2.3 million voting to put Cooper in charge. He is North Carolina’s CEO. Berger, by contrast, won election in his 4-county gerrymandered Senate district in 2018 – to be in charge of nothing but representing the constituents of Rockingham, Caswell, Stokes and Surry counties -- with slightly more than 43,000 votes. But his unyielding efforts to usurp and undermine the efforts of Cooper – particularly in the governor’s efforts to confront the COVID-19 pandemic – are more than an intramural bureaucratic distraction. They threaten to slow the state’s progress to emerge from the pandemic and revitalize the state's economy. More significantly, he espouses demands that place the lives of North Carolinians at risk – including demands on religious observance that diverge with the guidance of some of the state’s largest denominations. Cooper has developed and articulated a plan for confronting the COVID-19 pandemic in North Carolina. He has set out clear steps and goals to be met, so various sectors of our economy and society can, when appropriate, reopen in a measured way. At least three recent statewide polls show North Carolina voters overwhelmingly back Cooper’s approach – including a very substantial portion of Republicans.
THE THREE REASONS CONSPIRACY THEORIES ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN EVER: What’s different about this particular moment in conspiracy history? Three things, I think. First, conspiracy theories spread more efficiently by social media than by previous communications media. The online world is a post-truth space where there are no undisputed facts, only competing narratives, and even the most deranged claims (e.g., QAnon) can aggregate an audience. Second, the stakes are higher now. It doesn’t much matter if someone thinks that UFOs landed at Roswell, N.M., or that Elvis is still alive — but it matters greatly if someone thinks that the coronavirus isn’t real or that a vaccine may be more dangerous than the disease. Such beliefs, if they become widespread, pose a danger to public health. Indeed, anti-vaccine activists are already a menace. Third, we now have an unhinged conspiracy-monger in the White House. When he is not ranting about a vast, nebulous plot perpetrated by the prior administration (“Obamagate”) or about how Joe Scarborough supposedly murdered an aide, Trump is opining that the virus started in a Chinese lab, that hydroxychloroquine is an effective prophylactic, and that injections of bleach can treat the disease. His son, Eric, recently said that the coronavirus has been hyped by Democrats eager to stop his dad from holding rallies, and that “after Nov. 3, coronavirus, will magically all of a sudden go away.” This is nuts, but it gains credence by being promulgated by authority figures. In fact, the entire GOP — which just nominated a QAnon believer as its Senate candidate in Oregon — is becoming a modern-day Know Nothing Party, a cesspool of prejudice and irrationality. What was once the fringe has now moved into the mainstream — and will become even more prominent as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
CRUMBS FOR THE HUNGRY BUT WINDFALLS FOR THE RICH: While President Trump and his allies in Congress seek to tighten access to food stamps, they are showing compassion for one group: zillionaires. Their economic rescue package quietly allocated $135 billion — yes, that’s “billion” with a “b” — for the likes of wealthy real estate developers. My Times colleague Jesse Drucker notes that Trump himself, along with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may benefit financially from this provision. The fine print was mysteriously slipped into the March economic relief package, even though it has nothing to do with the coronavirus and offers retroactive tax breaks for periods long before Covid-19 arrived. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, both Democrats, have asked the Trump administration for any communications that illuminate how this provision sneaked into the 880-page bill. (Officially, the provision is called “Modification of Limitation on Losses for Taxpayers Other Than Corporations,” but that’s camouflage; I prefer to call it the “Zillionaire Giveaway.”) About 82 percent of the Zillionaire Giveaway goes to those earning more than $1 million a year, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. Of those beneficiaries earning more than $1 million annually, the average benefit is $1.6 million. In other words, a single mom juggling two jobs gets a maximum $1,200 stimulus check — and then pays taxes so that a real estate mogul can receive $1.6 million. This is dog-eat-dog capitalism for struggling workers, and socialism for the rich.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
BOB ETHERIDGE: TRUMP HAS BEEN A CURSE FOR RURAL NC: President Trump’s agenda for rural America has been terrible, from a disastrous trade war that hurt farmers to failed leadership on the opioid crisis. Unfortunately, coronavirus has severely exacerbated the inequities rural N.C. was facing. COVID-19 has hit counties with prisons and meatpacking plants particularly hard, along with majority-black rural counties across the South. To make matters worse, Trump’s administration launched a war on access to health care. While 1 in 4 rural hospitals remain in jeopardy, especially in states like North Carolina that have refused to expand Medicaid, Trump is challenging the Affordable Care Act in court, potentially kicking 20 million Americans off of their health care and forcing more rural hospitals to shut their doors. We desperately need to put a stop to Trump’s harmful policies and bring new, steady leadership back to our nation.
LINDA BURTON: ICE NEEDS TO RELEASE DETAINEES BEFORE AN OUTBREAK HITS: Regarding “Detained NC immigrants face coronavirus outbreak,” (May 19): Detention centers and prisons are cauldrons for disease due to crowded living conditions, lax healthcare, and poor nutrition. Fearing COVID-19, detainees at the Stewart Detention Center participated in a hunger strike, asking for masks and other protective gear plus nutritious food. As a registered nurse, I have worked with immigrants who have spent years here working, providing needed services, and paying taxes while trying to make a safer, better life for their families. Now, in detention, they’re being threatened with death by exposure to COVID-19. It is time to close Stewart and other detention centers, and to stop rounding up immigrants to fill them. Let these good men and women return to their families. ICE detention should not be a death sentence in America.
LORI SPANGLER: NURSES ARE STILL HAVING TO RATION PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT: My daughter is an ICU nurse in Washington, D.C. caring for COVID-19 patients. Her hospital is rationing personal protective equipment to the nurses, as they are running out. I’m asking U.S. Rep. David Price and Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr to stand with nurses by mandating that OSHA enact an emergency temporary infectious diseases standard and mandate that President Trump fully utilize the Defense Production Act. Nurses across the country are reporting that they’re still not receiving the PPE they need to safely care for COVID-19 patients. Congress needs to act now to get nurses the PPE they need to take care of their patients and keep us all safe. If nurses become infected, they won’t be there when people need them.