Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


TRUTH, TAXES, AND SENATOR BUDD'S FIB: Ted Budd doesn't want folks to pay the share of taxes the law says they owe. He doesn’t want those people who need help from the tax collector – the federal government’s Internal Revenue Service, to have adequate staff to help people with questions or to make sure they don’t pay a penny more or less than what is due. He wants it to be more difficult for those who have questions or who need help to get it. He wants to make it easier for people to cheat on their taxes -- forcing the rest of us honest folks to take up the burden of supporting the nation --- including the tax scofflaws Budd cares so much more about. Budd is dishonest. He says there's going to be 87,000 new IRS tax collectors invading people's homes and offices. The truth, as Budd SHOULD well know it, is very different. The additional money, in the Inflation Reduction Act, provides money to modernize the IRS and make sure there are enough workers to REPLACE about 50,000 in the agency’s workforce expected to retire or leave in the next six years. That is a problem having a huge impact as well on local, state and national public AND private employers. The additional workers will largely bolster direct services to those who need assistance or have questions of the agency. The truth means little (or nothing) to people like Ted Budd, whose entire political platform is based on misconceptions about what government does or should do. That comes from owing fealty to people like Grover Norquist and other dark money mages, who don't give a damn about 98% of American citizens. You get what somebody else pays for.

AP AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY COURSES ARE LONG OVERDUE: How would we safely navigate the roads without Garrett Morgan’s three-position traffic light? How would we light our homes and businesses without Lewis Latimer’s carbon light bulb filament, which could outlast Thomas Edison’s bulb? How would we protect our homes without Marie Van Brittan Brown’s home security system? Advancements to modern medicine, building the foundations of this country, entertainment, music, American culture — Black people are at the center of it all, yet we still aren’t worthy of being taught in your classrooms? Florida would never question the “educational value” and “historically accurate” content of the AP European History course available in their school districts — and others across the country — because it centers white people. Their culture, contributions, inventions and narratives of history hold validity. On the contrary, Black people will never live up to that standard in the eyes of many. The College Board offered the first pilot version of the AP African American Studies course to 60 high schools across the country this school year. According to a representative from Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Chapel Hill High School will be piloting the course next year after the plan to do so was approved at a CHCCS board meeting on January 5. The addition of this new AP course comes at a crucial time in the political debate surrounding Critical Race Theory and Nikole Hannah-Jones' 1619 Project. In short, Critical Race Theory aims to change the way racism is viewed in America. According to the theory, race is a social construct used to oppress people of color. Institutions and the law are also inherently racist and give power to white people by supporting social, political and economic disparities between them and people of color. The 1619 Project was created to reshape the way American history is taught. Unlike traditional textbooks, her project puts slavery and its legacy at the forefront of American history, bringing more attention to anti-Black racism and injustice that continues to shape the U.S. Critical Race Theory and this project aim to rewrite history and emphasize the truly barbaric and evil sins of this country through education and have, thus, been met with controversy. And that controversy is, in itself, solid proof our history has been white-washed. Pay attention: Including something that has previously been excluded is naturally going to displace other somethings.Truth be told, it shouldn't be limited to advanced prep courses earmarked for college-bound students; accurate African American history should be fully integrated into core social studies. Learn about Eli Whitney, but also learn that his invention supercharged the slave trade. It didn't "make their jobs easier," as one of my teachers tried to explain back in the early 1970's. It swelled their ranks to millions, and set us on a path to war.

RHETORIC DOESN'T MATCH REALITY IN THE NC LEGISLATURE: Slogans are easy and are vehicles to mask reality. Just examine North Carolina state Senate Leader Phil Berger’s oration to open the 2023 session of the General Assembly. BERGER’S SLOGANEERING: “We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that more money alone buys positive outcomes for our students. … Success in education policy is about more than hitting some arbitrary funding goal.” UNMASKED REALITY: It is NOT about money. It IS about providing the basic resources necessary so students and educators have the tools needed to get the job done. That’s not “arbitrary.” It is a formulaic approach to providing the promised quality education the state Constitution guarantees but Berger’s failing to deliver. BERGER’S SLOGANEERING: “Over the last 12 years and following the simple formula of lower taxes, less regulation, and a commitment to quality education, our state has flourished.” UNMASKED REALITY: To the degree North Carolina has flourished – and a new statewide poll casts plenty of doubt on that – has been despite the legislature. There’s been no commitment to quality education and that’s a fact, unfortunately repeatedly affirmed by state Supreme Court under both Democratic and Republican majorities. Let’s also mention the disaster of the 2016 House Bill 2 that cost the state $3.76 billion lost expanded business opportunities, jobs and revenues. Also, the decade-long refusal to expand Medicaid has cost the $17 billion in federal funds and 118,000 jobs that otherwise would have been created. BERGER’S SLOGANEERING: “We must provide them with the tools needed to determine their future — from a world-class education to finding a good-paying job in a career of their choice, or to the freedom and opportunity to open their own business.” UNMASKED REALITY: “World class?” Maybe Berger really means “third-world class.” North Carolina devotes a mere 2.32% of its GDP to support the public schools -- the lowest percentage in the nation. North Carolina also ranks 48 in the nation in per-student education funding -- $4,695 below the national average and less than Alabama and Mississippi. It's not what you say, it's what you do, and the only thing NC Republicans have done is shift resources away from public schools to private, often religious schools. And the result is a shortage of thousands of certified teachers and a steady decline in test scores. Great job, if your goal is to destroy public education.

A MOMENT OF HOPE AND LIGHT IN A DARK AND VIOLENT WINTER: Increasingly, it seems, just consuming and absorbing the news on a daily basis – much less reporting or commenting on it– is a chore that requires an iron gut and nerves of steel. And then, out of the blue, something happens to remind you that not all is lost; that most of your neighbors are decent human beings who love life more than they hate others; and that enlightenment and progress are still possible. Eighteen-thousand-or-so people in Raleigh experienced such an event last Friday night at the PNC Arena during, of all things, a hockey game. It happened when the local National Hockey League team – the Carolina Hurricanes – hosted and celebrated “Pride Night.” In keeping with a concerted if modest ongoing effort by the NHL across North America, the Hurricanes made the celebration LGBTQ acceptance, equality and pride the theme of an otherwise run-of-the-mill mid-season contest with the visiting San Jose Sharks. To that end: Rainbow symbols adorned the scoreboard and other electronic displays while cheerleaders waved rainbow flags and tossed rainbow-emblazoned T-shirts into the crowd. The Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus provided a stirring rendition of the national anthem. Video messages from corporate partners touting the benefits of inclusion helped fill breaks in play. Kids of local college LGBTQ groups staffed tables and distributed literature on the arena concourses. A diversity, equity, inclusion executive from the UNC healthcare system was honored as the evening’s “hero of the game” – a recognition usually reserved for visiting military vets. Music from LGBTQ artists and allies was blasted on loudspeakers during breaks rather than the usual hoary assortment of ’70s and ’80s metal band anthems. LGBTQ community leaders like Equality NC executive director Kendra Johnson were featured in silly between-period contests and waved to the crowd from the Zambonis that resurface the rink between periods. Thirty years ago, such an event would have been a literal impossibility in North Carolina. Even just 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been an enormously risky move. In 2017, the Hurricanes cautiously branded a similar event with what they presumably calculated was a less controversial label of “Hockey in for Everyone Night.” But in 2023, thank goodness, no such caution or half-measures were necessary. Instead, the large majority of an overwhelmingly white, privileged and conservative crowd of nearly 20,000 people received, accepted and cheered an uncensored and powerful message of hope and light while demonstrating that – at least in some small ways – progress is possible, and that love, acceptance and enlightenment can triumph over fear, hatred, and exclusion. Demonstrations like this are critical during a time when bigotry seems to be gaining momentum. Kudos to the Canes.

IN AMERICA, YOU HAVE TO OPT OUT OF RELIGION IN PUBLIC LIFE. THAT'S BACKWARDS: If you are a defendant in the state of New York and a judge requires you to attend an addiction recovery program, you have the right to request a secular program — one that does not center on God. Many recovery programs do have religious underpinnings; six of Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 steps to sobriety refer to a higher “Power” or “God.” But the state must provide a nonreligious option if you ask for one. If you’re a defendant in New York, however, you might not know that. You might think that your only option, if you don’t believe in God, is to pretend you do. That’s because, despite the promise of our Constitution, we don’t really live in a secular nation. In a secular nation, nonreligious recovery would be the default option, and a citizen who felt the need to seek God’s help would have the right to ask for AA instead. But in our country, religion is the default, and the burden of opting out — even the burden of knowing you have the right to — falls on the nonbeliever. The first time I remember opting out was in elementary school in rural Virginia, when my classmates went to learn about Jesus every week in a trailer off school grounds. I got to stay behind in an empty classroom because I was Jewish. Now, I’m an atheist and I live in New York state, which requires public schools to lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance every day. In theory, when my children were younger, they had the right to get out from “under God” as long as they didn’t mind being, you know, those kids. The only way not to stand out was to stand and recite, like everyone else. The Supreme Court doesn’t think I should mind. In 2014, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in Greece v. Galloway, upheld the constitutionality of prayer at town board meetings, no matter that religious prayer might exclude some people. “Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful,” he wrote, “their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy.” No problem, nonbelievers: You are free to leave. And that is a load of bullshit, right there. See my comment below.


ELLIE KINNIARD: NOT THE TIME FOR TAX CUTS: North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger has stated that he intends to cut taxes again. This is shortsighted, even with the surplus and the reserves for natural disasters. There are many needs Berger overlooks, especially mental health spending which is severely limited in providing services. And certainly education, where we have fallen in the national ratings. We should reinstate teaching assistants in the first three grades. Early child care should be available for every child in North Carolina. We are also short of school bus drivers who are underpaid, as are school cafeteria workers. Our needs are great. A tax cut will mostly benefit high earners. We need to benefit all our children and North Carolinians. That surplus is not an accident. It's an (intentional) vehicle used to justify a continual stream of annual tax-cuts, and it is fueled by irresponsible budgeting. Like Smaug, BergerMoore has been laying on that gold for so long it has clung to their bellies and formed a nearly invincible armor. Nearly. We must find that weak spot and bring them crashing down.

DR. LEWIS MARGOLIS: HERE WE GO AGAIN: How sad that the UNC Board of Trustees has voted to establish a new School of Civic Life and Leadership on campus. Instead of trying to understand and correct the forces that have diverted UNC from its mission of lux libertas, the scholarly pursuit of truth. This decision will compartmentalize and even marginalize that core function of the university. Years from now, will graduates from the other schools take pride in the disregard for truth in their years at UNC? I wrote about this 3 1/2 years ago, which merely demonstrates the persistence of the conservative snowflake mindset and the need to remain perpetually vigilant in preserving the integrity of UNC's flagship University.

EDITH CHING: THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF BOOK-BANNING IN LIBRARIES: The Jan. 30 front-page article, “Struggling to keep the shelves stocked,” pointed out the very serious issues of how restrictive ordinances and oversight rules are preventing librarians from ordering books with LGBTQ characters or other issues that parents might object to, but it omitted an even bigger concern: If librarians can’t purchase these books, publishers will not publish them and authors will not write them. We might lose voices that are much needed in this time of great division in our country. Those who are marginalized will be even more unseen, and difficult topics such as racial injustice and prejudice will become even more ignored. That is chilling, and something I had not previously considered.



Judgment for prayer...

If you're easily offended, you should probably skip this comment. But if you're a politician or leader of an ostensibly secular organization, I would prefer you didn't. The separation of church and state is a core tenet of our democracy, and we all have a role to play in the preservation of that wall.

The above letter about having to opt-out is a prime example of the laziness (that's right, I said it) of members of our government in folding to religious organizations and allowing them to take over parts of our social safety net. Homelessness and drug addiction are two areas where they have planted that (mostly Christian) flag. In most cases, if you are in need of assistance in those areas, you are forced to endure religiosity on a daily (or hourly) basis, and if you don't at least pay lip service to it, your very survival can be put in jeopardy.

You think I'm verging on hyperbole? Have you ever been in rehab or forced to sleep in a shelter? If not, don't be so ready to dismiss this issue.

I have been in rehab, many years ago, and there's a reason why so many AA meetings are held in churches. That's where the Higher Power resides, and where all your moral failings can be accepted if only you will seek that power. It is not a sickness of the body, it is a sickness of the soul, and faith is the only cure.

But what they won't tell you: that Higher Power is the perfect foil. If you relapse, that power has either let you down or you let it down. Your faith wavered, and you crashed. Science is simply not involved. Genetic pre-disposition to substance abuse? Untreated depression and/or other chemical imbalance? Nonsense. You just need to crack open that King James Version more often, and avoid books and music that are (apparently) put out there to test your faith.

But it's not simply religiosity that is the problem. By surrendering control over faith-based organizations that "provide" drug and alcohol treatment programs, government very often facilitates human rights violations. Many of these programs send patients out to work for their bed and board, generating a stream of income for the proprietors. And they employ tactics to avoid scrutiny on labor laws; work 8 hours in one place, and then get bused to another location for 6-8 more hours. That's not treatment, it's slavery. And we allow it to happen.

And then there's government prayer, another issue we tolerate. I was asked about that during a candidate forum, and my inability to lie once again worked against me. I said something along the lines of, "The more specific it gets, the bigger the problem." I tried to explain how ending a prayer "In Jesus' name" was exclusionary, cutting out Jews and Muslims alike. And when I went on the explain that God/Allah/Yahweh was the same deity, thus invoking "God" was more inclusive, I thought I was about to be crucified.

But I hadn't dug a deep enough hole yet. Oh no. I told them when Jesus flipped the tables of the moneylenders, it wasn't because of what they were doing, it was because of where they were doing it. In the Temple. Just as that was not the proper place for commerce, the town hall was not the proper place for worship.


The truth is, we all need to fight this battle. Not just secularists, but those of you who practice religion, also. Especially those of you who are religious. The danger goes both ways, and the blurring of those lines can only lead to the downfall of society, as we know it.