Sunday News: From the Editorial Pages


CLOSE GUN LOOPHOLES, DON'T OPEN MORE AND MAKE THINGS MORE DANGEROUS: Who are we to believe? North Carolina Republican legislators, who have a legacy of enacting laws that courts have declared racially biased and now say they’re looking to rid the state of a vestige of the racist Jim Crow era by repealing the state’s statutes requiring county sheriffs to issue pistol permits after background checks from applicants. Or … Organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – North Carolinians who know and lived Jim Crow first-hand – or the Duke University Center for Firearms Law, who say “statements that North Carolina’s permit law was purely racist or solely intended to disarm Black citizens don’t hold up to close historical scrutiny and often do a disservice to the quality of debate and discussion surrounding modern legislative proposals like the current push to repeal the law.” While other parts of Senate Bill 41 have laudable objectives – such as a campaign to distribute gun safety locks and stress the importance of safe and secure storage of firearms – the case can’t be made for the main objectives of the bill. They are shameless in their blatant and obvious hypocrisy, using this Jim Crow argument. But even worse than that is their callous disregard for the lives of innocents that would be sacrificed on the altar of the NRA-fueled drive to put more guns in the hands of those who would misuse them. It's a win/win for the gun lobby, because an increase in shootings will sell even more guns, as the fear ratchets up. Any Dem who votes to override Governor Cooper's Veto will have blood on their hands, and a well-supported Primary challenger.

NORTH CAROLINA KIDS NEED A SUPPORT NETWORK: Parents know how hard it is to navigate their child’s emotional state on a day-to-day basis, coaxing them through problems big and small. For me, as I think back on my oldest daughter through adolescence years ago, I often felt like a failure as a parent and as a professional social worker… because there were times I had to depend on others to help her. I reflected on this recently while considering Senate Bill 49, North Carolina’s version of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that has been introduced all over the country. What all of the bills have in common are sections that basically force school professionals to avoid even mentioning LGBTQ people and to call a kid’s parents if the student comes out to the educator as questioning whether they might be transgender. Setting my own parenting experience aside, I am saddened to see legislation like this while we’re in the middle of the worst adolescent mental health crisis we’ve ever seen. Based on a recent survey of high schoolers, only 49 percent say they feel good about themselves. Thirty-three percent said they feel alone. And perhaps most relevant to this bill, among students who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, 48 percent have seriously considered committing suicide in the last 12 months. Thinking about those kids hurting reminded me of the days when my daughter didn’t want my particular brand of help. Through my feelings of failure, I needed to trust the adults in her life to be there for her. As parents, we have to trust other adults more and more each day as our kids get older. We trust the bus driver to deliver our kids to school safely. We trust the coach to teach them important life lessons. And sometimes, we have to trust professionals to take care of our kids when our kids don’t turn to us. This Don’t Say Gay bill undermines that partnership. It sets up a false and unworkable framework because it falsely assumes that one side, the school side, does not believe in that partnership and isn’t to be trusted. When I was working in schools, when kids came to tell me something they “didn’t want their parents to know” — that they were gay, or pregnant, or in a gang, addicted to something, whatever it might have been — the truth is that they almost always did want to tell their parents because they want to be loved by their parents. They just couldn’t figure out how to do it. And then, unfortunately, there were occasions where students begged me not to tell their parents, as they feared they might be beaten or ostracized. If a law told me I had to tell their parents, but I had an ethical duty to protect the child from harm, what would I do? I would choose to protect the safety of that child over compliance with this harmful, unnecessary law. The sad truth is, parents don't always know what's best for their children. If they did, we wouldn't have a 25% sexual assault rate among young girls, many of those happening within that very home (or a relative's or family friend's home). And half of LGBTQ+ kids wouldn't be contemplating suicide. Some would even in a loving and accepting home, but not that many. We, as a society, have a responsibility to those children, even if it occasionally infringes on the "authority" of parents. Sorry not sorry.

ACTION NEEDED TO NARROW NC'S GROWING URBAN/RURAL EDUCATION DIVIDE: A decade ago the legislature took a shredder to teacher pay – eliminating salary boosts for longevity and getting advanced degrees. They front-loaded pay scales so teachers with the most experience got the smallest pay increases. Along with it, legislators abolished tenure and eliminated caps on class size and increased teaching workloads. They choked the pipeline for bringing new teachers into classrooms by abolishing the nationally-recognized Teaching Fellows program that fed more than 8,500 college graduates into schools in every county – with 80% remaining in the classroom at least a year beyond the four-year commitment and 64% still teaching after six years. (The program was reestablished, at a much-diminished level, in 2017) Now, all that is coming home to roost as school systems throughout North Carolina – urban and rural districts -- are seeing severe teaching vacancies. A month ago the state Department of Public Instruction reported classroom vacancies had jumped by more than 50%. Two rural school systems, Halifax and Hoke County schools, reported teacher vacancies at nearly 25%. Local school systems are being forced to take matters into their own hands to retain the teachers on staff as well as attract others to fill the vacancies. Unfortunately, this approach will likely only exacerbate the documented vast differences in the quality of education children have access to, depending on where in North Carolina they live. Wealthy school systems, such as Wake County, are dipping into their local education funds, to restore some of the benefits the legislature cut, in an effort to entice teachers to stay on the job as well as to recruit others to fill the vacancies. This situation is a prime example of how the NC GOP has completely failed rural areas. It's also why they constantly push contentious social issues, so those rural voters will be too distracted to notice what is really happening. Example #27 why we need a Democrat to run in every House and Senate district, so these issues can be pushed to the front of discussion and debate.

NC SHOULD LEARN FROM OTHER PLACES AND TRY TO DO MARIJUANA RIGHT: Cannabis – aka marijuana. Most Americans already live in a state where it’s lawful to sell, obtain and possess – either for medical purposes, recreational purposes or both – and the genie is clearly not going back in the bottle. What’s more, if a bipartisan group of North Carolina lawmakers gets their way in the current legislative session, North Carolina will soon become the 38th state to embrace such a statutory environment. Senate Bill 3 – the “Compassionate Care Act” – would make marijuana a lawful treatment in this state for several specified medical conditions. And this makes obvious sense. The notion that any adult in 2023 is being cited or arrested – much less fined, imprisoned or getting a criminal record – for personal use or possession of marijuana is absurd. Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is an obvious first step to preventing such injustices. That said, there are numerous choices that state leaders need to make as they head down the road of ending prohibition, and a lot of them revolve around money and control – who will make it and who will have it. Fortunately, one of the nation’s more knowledgeable experts in this realm is a veteran Chapel Hill attorney named Patrick Oglesby, and as Oglesby has written at some length, and expanded upon in a recent NC Policy Watch interview, there are some important lessons to be learned from other jurisdictions around North America. Oglesby’s chief piece of advice: Don’t turn the control (and the profits from) marijuana production and sales over to giant, out-of-state corporations. As he insightfully puts it, opening up legal marijuana sales for the first time is “like discovering gold on state land.” It’s an exercise that will create a huge and profitable market out of whole cloth — a market that will trade in a product with the potential to have a big impact on the health, wealth and well-being of the state’s citizens. As such, it’s something that ought to be handled so that it belongs to and benefits of the people of the state. So rather than simply selecting and handing the whole thing over to a group of big, for-profit companies (at least some of which have distinctly sketchy connections) to own and extract huge returns, Oglesby urges keeping production and sales under public control. To this end, he cites approvingly the actions of Louisiana officials who turned the production process over to a pair of the state’s land grant universities: Southern University (an HBCU) and Louisiana State University, which in turn, contracted the farming out to a pair of private growers. He notes that North Carolina A&T and NC State could be selected to replicate that model here. This would keep the production truly local, while benefiting local growers and, ultimately, the universities. I endorse this message. Both schools have solid agricultural programs that would ensure the oversight needed to manage this development properly and equitably, and allow the general public to see what is going on, as it develops.

FROM IRAQ TO UKRAINE: REFLECTIONS ON IMPERIAL HUBRIS: Twenty years ago, as the United States prepared to wage war on Iraq, then-Democratic Senator Joe Biden voted in favour of President George Bush’s reckless adventure. On the other side of the world, in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin opposed it, denouncing it as a mistake and a major escalation that would destabilise the international system. Today, it is the savvier and more seasoned Putin who is waging an imperial war in Ukraine – a blunder that now-President Biden has pounced on, warning of its destabilising implications for the world. Over these two decades, I have written extensively about the savage, arrogant and reckless wars the Kremlin and the White House have waged in a relentless show of imperial hubris, whether in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Iraq war, instead of writing with hindsight or introspection, as many have done in the past few days, I would like to revisit some basic ideas exactly as I wrote them years ago and over the past year. They reveal how these imperial wars of choice are destined to fail and why they bring about destruction instead of democracy, chaos instead of stability and humiliation instead of victory. "A global response to Sept. 11 could usher in a new era of multilateral cooperation and revamped international law to deal with the new transnational threats. An attack on Iraq would do exactly the opposite. The immediate threat to world stability is coming not from the Iraqi dictator but rather from the democratically elected government of the world’s superpower. Americans, the ball is in your court. The Bush administration should be careful when it talks about democracy in the Middle East. The idea is too valuable, and too vital, to be used as cynical camouflage for other agendas, whether those are based on oil interests, or Israel’s, or the desire to have a solid military beachhead in a volatile region. It’s time for democrats – Westerners, Arabs and others – to confront warmongering politicians with a geo-ethics, to oppose war with the same unwavering opposition they oppose dictators. Democrats the world over, foremost among them American democrats, must put their values above their interests, their humanity above their fear, to help create coalitions across continents and religions to make peace and democracy possible for all." Marwan is correct. Our efforts at regime change and nation-building have failed time and time again, leaving suffering and anarchy in their wake. Even Obama was guilty of this, in cheerleading the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. That country (if you can even still call it that) is in shambles, with millions of innocents dead and millions more displaced, struggling to survive, homeless, drowning in the Mediterranean. And we own a big part of that failure, whether we will admit it or not.


GERRIE RICHARDS: MIFEPRISTONE IS SAFE AND NECESSARY: Gov. Cooper is right to urge pharmacy chains like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart to disclose how they’ll dispense mifepristone, an FDA approved drug that’s been safely used in the U.S. and worldwide for at least 20 years. Pharmacies are part of a complex healthcare system. Those that choose to adhere to the unjust restrictions on women’s healthcare are failing the patients and physicians who rely on them to dispense medication. Why isn’t this huge and necessary part of the health care partnership fighting for its customers and patients instead of bowing to the threats of partisan politicians? It feels like we're losing this battle, folks. And it's not just a stuffy policy debate; women are losing their freedoms every day, every where. It must be stopped.

BRUCIE SHOOK: VACCINE MISCONCEPTION: There is a bill making its way through the North Carolina House that would prohibit public schools, colleges and universities from requiring students to provide proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Apparently, the reasoning behind this bill is that the vaccine was approved too quickly in a rushed manner, thus making it possibly unsafe. I wish that our legislators could have heard the recent Bryan series talk by Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett who led the National Institute of Health team that developed the Moderna vaccine. Dr. Corbett is an African American woman from the small community of Hurdle Mills near Hillsborough, N.C. She is currently an assistant professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard University. She holds a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from UNC-Chapel Hill. Since 2016 her NIH team had been working diligently and in relative obscurity to develop vaccines for coronaviruses. When the pandemic began, this placed them in the unique position to draw on their extensive prior research to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. This was not a vaccine that was developed from scratch starting in 2019. A quick Google search will provide information about Dr. Corbett and the science behind the vaccine. I hope that our legislators will do a bit of research before passing this bill. The vaccine(s) have saved tens of thousands of lives worldwide, and while some have still contracted COVID-19 after being vaccinated, the vaccine itself is not dangerous. The only danger is not getting it, and this bill is proof Republicans simply don't care about the health and safety of students and the staffs who educate them.

CARA PEARSON: CHILDREN DESERVE THE TRUTH: I read your March 14th article about Rev. Nicholas McNeill’s effort to ban the book, ‘Nasreen’s Secret School. Since books are accessible online, why ban them? I Googled the book, then read all 33 pages. It was written from an Afghan grandmother’s perspective on how girls live in Afghanistan. There was no indoctrination of any kind; no foul language; or anything vulgar. Also, the article indicated that he was particularly concerned about a chapter in the book, “Patient Zero,” because it mentions the origins of AIDS. There are approximately 25 Bible verses that address homosexuality. Is the Bible on his hit list too? His stance on Critical Race Theory (CRT) was confusing. CRT is an examination of how laws, social/political movements, and media are shaped by social concepts of race and ethnicity. It is taught in law school, not grades K-12. Notably, it has nothing to do with reverse racism. The movement of banning books is focused on revisionist history. Both African American history and American Indian history are targets. Last Oct. 24, Florida’s Gov. DeSantis said, “You have people that are teaching that the United States was built on stolen land. That is inappropriate for our schools; it’s not true.” It’s just a matter of time for people like DeSantis to find books like ‘The Only Land I Know;” “The Lumbee Problem,” and “Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle,” as unsuitable. For kids to gain a well-rounded education, then reading from different viewpoints is fundamental for improving educational outcomes. The only criteria for banning books in schools should be accuracy. And under that rubric, many of our textbooks already fail miserably, especially ones crafted in Texas. Students shouldn't have to wait for college to learn the truth, it should be required from day one.



Go take a hike...

We gathered yesterday to dedicate the bridge pictured above for my Brother-In-Law Haley Burch who passed away last year from cancer. We joked about whether it was safe for all of us to stand on said bridge for this picture, but Haley built it to last for a long time, so it didn't even creak under all the weight. I'm second from the left, and most of the rest of the folks are Mountains-To-Sea Trail volunteers and Piedmont Land Conservancy people, who have given thousands of hours of often back-breaking labor to craft and maintain these trails for us to enjoy.

Many reading this will already know what I'm about to tell you, but for those who don't, lend me an ear. Eye. Whatever:

Taking a walk in the woods is hands-down the best therapy you can attain. The simplicity of one foot after the other is calming, but that is only a tiny fraction of what goes on mentally and physically when you do this. The smells of industrial society are gone, replaced by a freshness that has to be experienced to be recognized. The sounds are wildly different, too. There are no Machines growling or whining, no horns honking, no arguments raging. Just the wind blowing through the trees, and birds going about their business. And the sights? Life is everywhere. Majestic, century-old trees, down to tiny saplings just starting out. Tiny fish in tiny streams, hiding behind moss and lichen. Metamorphic rocks hinting at geologic activity millions of years ago.

Every step exposes countless wonders, and eases the burdens heaped on your back. It can not only extend your life via exercise and stress reduction, but it also makes that life worth extending, if that makes any sense.

Go take a hike. While you still can.