Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


LEGISLATOR'S DEMOTION HIGHLIGHTS BACKROOM DEAL, POTENTIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: Moore and his deputies defended their behavior ousting Howard from her leadership post, saying a deal had been cut in a closed-door meeting of Republicans to move the bill. "Several weeks ago, the North Carolina Republican House Legislative Caucus overwhelmingly voted to move forward on House Bill 334. ... Over the proceeding weeks, against the will of the caucus, Rep. Julia Howard, in her role as one of four Senior House Finance Chairs did not move the bill," said a statement from Moore, House Speaker Pro Tem Sarah Stevens, R-Surry County and House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne County. Here's the rub. The House Republican Caucus has NO official standing (same goes for the Democrats’ caucus). It does not meet in public. There are no publicly available recorded votes. Nothing done or said in those secret sessions is open to the scrutiny of the people legislators represent, the voters who put them into office or the news reporters who can shine light onto what they say and do.

REPEALING NC'S HANDGUN PERMIT WILL DRIVE UP HOMICIDES AND SUICIDES: By requiring a permit for the purchase of a handgun, a process that goes through North Carolina sheriffs and requires a background check, the permitting system helps ensure that guns are not falling into the hands of individuals who have a history of violence or are at risk of future violent behavior. Federal law only requires that licensed firearms dealers conduct background checks, leaving ample opportunity for people who should not own guns to attain them without a background check through gun shows, online and private sales. This law is an effective tool in addressing gun violence in North Carolina, and we have real world data to prove that. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University attribute Connecticut’s passage of a 1995 firearm licensing law to a significant decrease in gun violence in the state. From 1995 to 2017, Connecticut saw a 28% decrease in firearm homicide and a 33% decrease in firearm suicide. Evidence also shows that a repeal of such a policy would have the opposite impact, with devastating and deadly consequences. The 2007 repeal of Missouri’s firearm licensing law resulted in a 25% percent increase in gun homicides and a 16% increase in gun suicides. Today, Missouri has the 7th highest gun death rate in the country and has the county (St. Louis) with the 3rd highest gun homicide rate. But the evidence doesn’t stop there – research shows that the presence of firearms licensing laws brought down the gun homicide rate by 11% in cities and large urban counties and had a positive effect on reducing the flow of illegal guns, with fewer crime guns recovered in the state with a licensing law and fewer crimes guns that originated in that state than in other states.

CHANGE NC LAW TO SPEED THE RELEASE OF POLICE BODY CAM FOOTAGE: Exactly what happened when Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputies fatally shot Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City has not yet been revealed, but one thing is clear: North Carolina’s body camera law needs to be fixed. The shooting occurred Wednesday just a day after the conviction of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis had brought reassurance that police officers will be held accountable for unlawful fatal encounters. Now controversy around Brown’s killing has revived the issue and videos from the deputies’ body cameras are being withheld. In the absence of the videos, the public is left to speculate, witness accounts can’t be verified and tensions are needlessly increased. “We’re going into 72 hours of this thing, and still there’s no answers,” Elizabeth City Councilman Gabriel Adkins said Friday. “Each day that goes by, there’s more pain and more anger.” In signing the bill in 2016, then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, said it would set up “clear and distinct procedures and standards by which a law enforcement agency may disclose or release a recording from a body-worn or dashboard camera.” In practice, setting up obstacles to releasing police videos only adds to confusion and undermines police credibility. Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker said during a Saturday news conference that body camera videos should be released within a day or two after an incident. “Come on now, this doesn’t make sense,” she said. “We have to wait forever to get the body cam — 24 hours or 48 hours is enough. So let’s just change this.” Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat and former state attorney general, has rightly called for the prompt release of the videos as the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) looks into the shooting.

STATES SHOULD BE LISTENING TO PROTESTERS. INSTEAD THEY'RE SHUTTING THEM UP: Existing anti-riot laws have met with criticism for vague language that grants excessive leeway to police to exaggerate what “immediate danger” may mean, or to arrest nonviolent citizens merely because those around them have become violent. Many of the proposals on the table today take this problem and make it worse. Florida’s, for instance, creates a broad definition of what constitutes a riot. It creates new crimes such as “mob intimidation” and enhances penalties for existing public disorder charges. Indiana’s would bar people convicted of unlawful assembly from state employment, and Minnesota’s would bar convicted protesters from receiving such benefits as student loans and housing aid. The provisions become only more egregious from there: Taking down a monument in Florida has become a second-degree felony with up to 15 years in prison attached, the same sanction applied in cases of rape. Indiana’s governor now has on his desk a bill that would withhold funds from local governments that fail to protect statues and other memorials. The salvos in Iowa and Oklahoma would grant immunity to drivers who mow down protesters in the street; Florida’s version of this provision was toned down to minimize civil liability for the offense. Also in legislators’ crosshairs are communities that dare decrease their own law enforcement budgets. A Kentucky bill that foundered in the statehouse read almost as a parody: “Offensive or derisive words” aimed at a law enforcement officer would be punishable by up to three months in jail and a $250 fine. The idea was patently ridiculous — and yet the dozens of bills across the country creeping toward enactment have a similar scent. Rather than using or refining the ample tools authorities have today to target violence and destruction, state governments are giving themselves new tools that would discourage nonviolent expression, too. Elected officials are supposed to protect even the speech they do not want to hear. Instead, too many seem determined to punish it.

THE WORLD NEEDS MANY MORE CORONAVIRUS VACCINES, WEALTHY NATIONS NEED TO STEP UP: Low- and middle-income nations are facing an unconscionable shortage of coronavirus vaccines that threatens to upend progress against the pandemic. So far, this global shortage has been obscured by pockets of vaccine abundance in wealthier countries like the United States. But if the shortage isn’t addressed soon, the trouble will become all too clear. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will continue to get sick and die, even as the pandemic recedes in richer nations. The most fragile economies will continue to teeter, and gains made elsewhere will eventually be imperiled: The longer the virus spreads, the greater the chance it mutates into something even more contagious, deadly or vaccine-resistant. Nearly as soon as vaccines entered clinical trials, wealthy countries began hoarding doses, ensuring that instead of the most vulnerable people everywhere being vaccinated, their residents would be first in line. Then, as the vaccines came to market, some vaccine makers insisted on sweeping liability protections that further imperiled access for poorer countries. The United States, for example, is prohibited from selling or donating its unused doses, as Vanity Fair has reported, because the strong liability protections that drugmakers enjoy here don’t extend to other countries. In other countries, Pfizer has reportedly not only sought liability protection against all civil claims — even those that could result from the company’s own negligence — but has asked governments to put up sovereign assets, including their bank reserves, embassy buildings and military bases, as collateral against lawsuits. Some countries have understandably balked at such demands, according to the nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the pace of purchasing agreements has slowed as a result. As they find themselves shut out of vaccine procurement, those same nations have also found that they cannot make the shots themselves. Companies and countries are hoarding both raw materials and technical expertise, and have prevented poorer nations from suspending patents despite international treaties that allow for such measures in emergencies. The richest nations account for 16 percent of the global population but hold 53 percent of all purchased coronavirus doses, according to the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy. The United States is projected to have 300 million extra shots by late July, even after accounting for the supply needed to vaccinate the millions of children who are expected to be eligible by the end of the year.


PATRICK CONWAY: BERGER'S INFATUATION WITH TAX-CUTS IS HOLDING US BACK: In an April 22 op-ed, N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger explained the Republican philosophy of income tax-rate reduction leading to improved well-being for the residents of the state. I do not see the evidence. Tax cuts don’t cause budget surpluses. The N.C. budget surpluses are due in large part to state spending not in line with need for services. One example of inadequate spending: The Census Bureau reports that per-pupil expenditure in primary and secondary education in North Carolina in 2010 was $9,280, and $11,844 in the U.S. as a whole. In 2018, it was $9,377 and $12,612 respectively. Educational spending is an investment in the future of our state; we are falling behind. Other investments have been shortchanged as well. What is the result? Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita for North Carolina in 2010 was 90% of GDP per capita for the U.S. By 2018, that ratio was 84%. Our state is falling behind.

MEREDITH HARDIN: STOP TREATING POLICE AS IF THEY ARE ABOVE THE LAW: We need a plan of action to ensure that every citizen walks away from an encounter with police alive. Until we stop treating our police force as above the law, we will not make any movement in protecting people of color against the systemic racism ingrained in policing. To save lives, we must be innovative and willing to make changes. This is a public health crisis. Black mothers should no longer fear losing a child over a “routine” traffic stop. As a mother myself, hearing that Daunte Wright called his mom during his fatal traffic stop, made me think he was so afraid he needed his mom to hear what was happening because he knew she’d do anything to save him. But when the system is built against you, even the power of a mother can’t help. That is heartbreaking and wrong. We must finally make changes. We must take action.

TINA GORDON: PASS THE SAVE ACT AND UNLEASH PRACTICING NURSES: The only reason the SAVE Act, which would give more independence to some of the state’s most skilled nurses, keeps getting stuck in dead-end committees is because of intransigent physicians groups. The delay costs North Carolinians hundreds of millions annually while exacerbating healthcare access problems. Quality healthcare is about using evidence to treat someone and adjusting when new or better information becomes available. Physician resistance to the SAVE Act is antithetical to that basic cornerstone of evidence-based care. Study after study has shown bills like the SAVE Act would improve healthcare, but we seem to be stuck in the same political gridlock people despise. The patient safety argument that physicians groups have leaned into is, frankly, insulting. Just a few years ago, a medical practice cited North Carolina’s “modest” supervision rules as a way to recruit physicians because they could earn “almost passive income,” adding up to $60,000 a year by supervising just four nurse practitioners. Bottom line: Nurses are the most trusted profession in the country — 19 years running, per Gallup — and patients trust highly trained nurses to know when to refer to a specialist or seek advice from a colleague. A mandated contract doesn’t change that underlying premise. Let’s break the politics of the pocketbook and give patients to a well-deserved win. I urge the power brokers at the N.C. General Assembly to allow the SAVE Act to move forward.



We're all fact-checkers

Or at least we should be. Granted, there are only so many hours in the day, and a much smaller amount of time that could (should) be dedicated to research. But making sure we have honest and accurate discussions about policy is critical in moving progress forward. Case in point:

Posted by Steve Harrison on Saturday, April 24, 2021

It took me about 15 minutes to find the information needed to refute this opinion, which means the author probably already knew those details, but chose to spin off a completely misleading claim anyway. The piece is chock-full of references to legitimate charity, accompanied by an image of food being collected for the hungry. Strumming the reader's heartstrings, based on a completely bogus premise.

While the above Tweet received zero acknowledgment and very little exposure, it served an important purpose: warning the original author that poor research and/or intentionally deceptive rhetoric will be challenged. With facts, and not easily dismissed opinions.

As some reading this already know, I don't just fact-check conservative opinions. I will double-check anything I come across, follow those threads until I'm satisfied the core of the opinion is solid. I don't do that out of self-interest, I do it to stop the potential spread of faulty information. I do it so that time and effort are not wasted on an inaccurate premise.

You should do this, too.

The vaccine distribution problem...

is a bit more complex than just the amount of available doses in rich countries makes it seem. The situation has nuances that must be taken into account. The surplus in the U.S. is largely in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at this point, which present a significant challenge for distribution to poor countries. It's a matter of the infrastructure of these countries not being able to handle these vaccines, with their rigorous refrigeration requirements. Nor are we going to be able to change that difficulty quickly. We could provide and install the kind of freezers necessary in some places (a few large cities with relatively reliable electricity) in poor countries, but beyond those cities the ability to actually distribute and administer these vaccines would break down. What we need to be doing is retaining these mRNA vaccines for countries that can handle and distribute them while ramping up and dedicating production of vaccines that poorer countries are equipped to handle (especially the J&J vaccine) because they have storage and transport requirements like those of vaccines these countries already handle and distribute. But production of these is still behind the curve of what's required because they came to the market later and have been hampered by production delays. Still, it's the right course for us (and other developed nations) to be pursuing. Now we just need to put pressure on the Biden administration to follow through on that idea and vaccinate the world as quickly as possible.