Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


NEW MAPS MAY BE "RACE-BLIND," BUT THEY STILL HURT MINORITY VOTERS: It’s disingenuous for Republicans to pretend that using race in any way is wrong, when the courts have ruled that race can and should be used if it’s to ensure that all communities are represented fairly. The law is clear: racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional. But the consideration of race is permitted, and even required, under court interpretations of the Voting Rights Act. In states with racially polarized voting, mapmakers are required to create majority-minority districts so that those voters have an equal opportunity to vote and elect their candidate of choice. (Republicans say there’s no evidence of racially polarized voting in North Carolina, but they’ve also refused to study it.) The truth is, regardless of what they say, Republicans most definitely pay attention to race when they draw their lines. Just like they did when they cracked the NC A&T campus into two Districts. This "Race-Blind" thing is pure Orwell, a Big Lie in the making, in an effort to bluff their way through the inevitable court challenges.

NC JUST GOT ANOTHER REMINDER OF RICHARD BURR'S LACK OF ETHICS: New details arose Thursday regarding a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into possible insider trading by Burr. According to an SEC filing first reported by ProPublica, Burr possessed “material nonpublic information” regarding the incoming economic impact of the virus when he dumped roughly $1.6 million in stocks in February 2020. After doing so, he called his brother-in-law, the filing says — and the very next minute, Burr’s brother-in-law called his stock broker. Burr’s big sale was previously the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department, who informed the senator in January that it would not pursue charges against him. But he — and his brother-in-law — remain under investigation by the SEC. And despite having an estimated net worth of $7.4 million in 2018, Burr has been raising big money to help foot his hefty legal bills. Thirty-three current or former U.S. senators, as well as other sitting members of Congress, have contributed to the Richard Burr Legal Expense Trust Fund as of September, the News & Observer reported. The fund has raised more than $524,000 and paid $565,000 to Latham & Watkins, a major law firm. Regardless of whether the SEC concludes that his actions were criminal, he has failed as a public servant, profiting off of a deadly virus while failing to convey to the public the seriousness of the threat it posed. This is the part Republicans can't seem to understand: just because charges don't "stick," it doesn't mean your sins are washed away. There's an incredibly high bar (too high) for regulators at both the FEC and the SEC when it comes to punishing elected officials, which is why it so rarely happens. Burr should have already resigned his Senate seat, but he and his cohorts are afraid the stink of corruption will help Democrats in 2022.

MEDICAID EXPANSION IS CRITICAL FOR NC'S MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS: Unfortunately, North Carolina has never had adequate mental health services because it’s unaffordable for most people. Until we close the coverage gap for the more than 1 million uninsured North Carolinians and employers ensure their health plans adequately cover mental health services, needed care in our communities will remain out of reach. Mental illness is incredibly common. Roughly 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness – that’s about 2 million North Carolinians. Yet, in 2019, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, more than 55% of people did not receive treatment – that’s more than 1 million North Carolinians who went without care. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number one reason people do not get the care they need is cost. More than 1 million North Carolinians have no insurance at all, including an estimated 142,000 uninsured children. Historically, state funding provides $275 million per year for safety-net behavioral health services, allowing about 100,000 uninsured individuals to receive care, leaving hundreds of thousands of others who need care, with nothing. All of this leads to behavioral health patients waiting in emergency departments across the state. And for some, untreated mental illness can lead to homelessness, involvement with the justice system, trauma to children, increased physical health problems and inevitably will drive-up other costs – financial and moral. It is also very often fatal. See my comment below.

THE MYTH OF COLOR-BLIND CAPITALISM: Unfortunately, such claims persist with maddening frequency – often in the guise of extolling the supposed “color-blindness” of modern capitalism and decrying efforts to enact and enforce anti-discrimination rules. You’ve heard this familiar spiel: “corporate America doesn’t care about the color of its customers – just so long as their money in green.” A Raleigh-based conservative columnist – John Hood of the John William Pope Foundation – advanced precisely such an argument recently in a column in which he rather breezily dismissed an in-depth national investigation into the practices of American mortgage lenders. Citing a response to the Markup report generated by the American Enterprise Institute – a corporate-funded group that has at various times cast doubt on the reality of climate change and done the bidding of the tobacco industry – Hood contends that the mortgage industry doesn’t really discriminate in lending because default rates for borrowers of color are higher. The authors anticipated the critique that they had not accounted for the lending profiles of individual borrowers, and preemptively examined and addressed it at great length. Notably, they report that one reason they couldn’t gain access to some of the data is because of aggressive industry lobbying to keep such information from being made public. They also explain, however, that “government regulators do have access to credit scores” and that “the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] analyzed 2019 [Home Mortgage Disclosure Act] data and found that accounting for credit scores does not eliminate lending disparities for people of color.” They report further that most lending decisions are driven by a process that involves the use of dated credit scoring algorithms “widely considered detrimental to people of color because it rewards traditional credit, to which White Americans have more access.” Regardless of Hood's rationalizations, the factors hindering African-American home ownership that led to the Community Reinvestment Act almost a half-century ago are still in place. A leads to B leads to C, and the results of any "formula," no matter how neutral it may seem, are evidence of its lack of neutrality.

AS COUNTRIES GATHER AT GLASGOW SUMMIT, TIME IS RUNNING OUT TO FIGHT GLOBAL WARMING: World leaders on Sunday begin major international climate negotiations with a seemingly impossible task. Scientists warn that humans must keep global average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius over the course of this century or risk devastating consequences. The world is far off track. Staying under 1.5 degrees would require cutting planet-warming greenhouse emissions in half by 2030 and reaching “net-zero” emissions by 2050 according to scientific estimates. Net-zero means countries might still produce some carbon dioxide or other greenhouse agents, particularly in certain industrial sectors that are hard to decarbonize, but they would make up for it by removing an equivalent amount of greenhouse emissions from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, after a brief pause during the covid-19 crisis, global emissions are rising once again. Leaders are supposed to bring to Glasgow new 2030 emissions-cutting commitments that will change this course. A U.N. analysis released Oct. 26 projected that if countries met their 2030 Glasgow pledges, the planet would still warm by 2.7 degrees Celsius over the course of this century. That is better than the 3 degrees the United Nations projected previously, but well above 1.5 degrees. Some countries have additionally committed to hitting net-zero emissions by mid-century, which would require effort beyond their stated 2030 goals. The analysis found that if countries hit those mid-century targets, they would cut warming to 2.2 degrees Celsius — an improvement, but still not satisfactory. The international process that began in Paris in 2015 is essential. Countries must meet and meet again, as they will in Glasgow, pressuring each other to make and keep their climate commitments. Just as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade established regular international summits to drive down trade barriers in the 20th century, the Paris process offers the best chance to keep all major emitting nations moving in what must be a cooperative multilateral project. Trump's lack of leadership on climate change, including (especially?) his rejection of the Paris Accords, allowed other nations (China, Australia, India) to recklessly abandon their responsibilities, and has made the challenge infinitely worse.


TRUDE BENNETT: WHERE IS THE SUPPORT FOR WOMEN'S REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM?: Watching the Supreme Court fail to act as the Texas abortion ban stripped away reproductive rights overnight was a troubling reminder of what’s at stake in the 2022 U.S. Senate race. As a retired public health professor, I understand the impact laws have on health outcomes, and I can’t stress enough — these restrictive laws will exacerbate the maternal mortality crisis that exists in our communities. Instead of attacking abortion access, we need a senator who will prioritize bettering the well-being of North Carolinians, especially Black mothers and Black pregnant people. The statistics are alarming: According to the CDC, Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women. In North Carolina the pre-term birth rate among Black women is 48% higher than all other women. Ted Budd, Pat McCrory and Mark Walker have made it clear when it comes to protecting abortion access and expanding health care, that they will do everything they can to strip away our rights. We can’t let that happen. This race is critical. Whomever you support in the Democratic Primary right now, be prepared to support the winner. There are no "acceptable" GOP candidates.

ANDREA FLYNN: OUR ECONOMY WAS DESIGNED TO FAIL WOMEN--AND IT DOES: Michelle Singletary’s Oct. 24 The Color of Money column, “The best financial advice for women set back by pandemic,” detailed the continued challenges women, and specifically women of color, face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and related economic crisis. After acknowledging these growing inequities and the long-term impact they will have on women, she wrote, “Whether you’re doing well or struggling, economic empowerment begins with the basics — managing the money you have.” However, deep structural inequities leave many women living paycheck to paycheck (if they indeed still have a paycheck) without the ability to save at all. As of 2020, nearly half of all women did not have $400 to use in case of an emergency. Women, and particularly Black women, are at disproportionate risk of eviction. Black women are carrying disproportionate levels of medical and student debt that exacerbate preexisting wealth inequities. Women facing these challenges cannot strategize or save their way out of the inequality they experience. For women with excess income, financial planning can be helpful. But for far too many women, broad structural reforms are needed to meaningfully improve their economic opportunities and outcomes. The economy was designed to fail women. Until we fix it, it will continue to do so. It was designed not just to fail them, but to keep them in thrall to men for their (and their children's) survival. That motive may be hundreds of years old, but it still exists.

LAURA WEELDREYER: OUR WORKFORCE IS EVOLVING: I see antiwork, or the Great Resignation, as the next logical step in the labor movement. American workers, and women in particular, finally have some power over their employers and a rare opportunity for better benefits and rights. A recent study by the Greater Baltimore Committee and Towson University reveals that discrimination in the workplace was one of the main reasons for employees quitting. Nearly a quarter of all respondents said they’ve felt “singled out” because of their gender. The workers surveyed have asked for simple things to reduce stress and create a less hostile work environment, including remote work options and flexible schedules. “Antiwork” is short for “antiworking yourself to death.” I’m a boss. I know it’s tempting to reward those who answer emails in the middle of the night, turn up in the office before sunrise and sacrifice personal time for the “greater good.” I also know that exhausted employees make mistakes. Workers who lack affordable child care are unreliable. And a lack of a comprehensive paid family leave policy leads to high turnover rates and wasted dollars. Work should never be the all-consuming facet of our lives that it has become. The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that new ways are possible, “flexibility” isn’t a dirty word and progress is possible. I'm a former boss too, and I can tell you from direct experience that women in the workforce are required to sacrifice a great deal more than their male counterparts, just to reach parity with said males. When males make mistakes, it is forgiven. When females do, it goes on "the list." Women (especially in management) are forced to be multi-taskers, while men are allowed to "specialize." And those multiple tasks dumped on women are usually tasks their male counterparts can't (or refuse to) accomplish on their own. If their pay reflected that imbalance of labor, it might be acceptable. But it's actually the opposite. More work and responsibility for less pay. Don't perpetuate this if you can help it.



Once more, the bridge to recovery...

I've discussed this here before, but lives have been unnecessarily lost since then, so here we go again:

When somebody presents at the ER for complications due to opioid addiction, whether they are brought there due to an overdose, or brought themselves for psychological or physiological reasons, both the opportunity and responsibility for intervention are acute.

It's an opportunity because that person is reaching out; he or she has arrived at a crossing point in their addiction, where shame and secrecy have been eclipsed by the desire for change. Sometimes they need to be pushed a little after they've arrived in the ER, because many injuries or ailments are actually drug-seeking efforts.

But that does not negate the other side of the coin, the responsibility. That drug-seeking behavior reveals one critical fact: they either can't find opioids on the street or can't afford them, and withdrawal has likely already begun.

Which brings us to the bridge. Or the missing bridge, in most cases. Detoxing from opioids takes from 4 to 10 days. Until that is achieved, the physical demands (as opposed to psychological) are overwhelmingly strong. And life-threatening, in many cases. That individual must be monitored by health care professionals, just like we do post-op for non-addicts, or their bodies can simply shut down under the strain. It doesn't matter that they have allowed their physical health to deteriorate, from malnutrition and toxic overload. Their lack of responsibility in no way negates or excuses our responsibility to help them. Too often medical professionals allow this jaded viewpoint to dictate their actions, and that must stop.

But even if we stop that type of thinking, resources are still a challenge. Over half of opioid addicts have no medical coverage, and the number is higher in states that have not expanded Medicaid. And our for-profit healthcare system has relied (for too long) on churches, non-profits, and in many cases unethical "programs" to take up the slack. Which of course they can't. Addicts were already shuffled back out the door at hospitals before the Pandemic; it is much worse now.

So what is really needed are (government-subsidized if not -operated) detox centers, where patients can make it through that 10 days of withdrawal, get to the other side, where their body is no longer screaming for the next fix or Oxy dose. Because without that bridge, they will take whatever they can get to stop the pain. And it will likely be laced with fentanyl, an express train to an early grave.