WANT TO SAVE NC'S RURAL HOSPITALS? EXPAND MEDICAID NOW: This is no mystery. Expanding Medicaid means there are fewer patients whose care isn’t compensated. Hospitals that get paid for the care they give more patients will have better financial performance. Doctors who know they will get paid for the services they deliver will be more willing to practice in rural areas. This is not complicated. So why does the political party that rules the General Assembly continue to stubbornly keep North Carolina among the minority of states – just a dozen – that refuse to expand Medicaid even though it is almost entirely paid for by the federal government. Those are taxes North Carolinians have already paid. Our North Carolina dollars are helping keep rural hospitals open in other states while hospitals, many in eastern North Carolina counties like Beaufort, Washington and Halifax have closed. These concerns should be front-and-center to the General Assembly’s leaders – particularly Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore – who have seen hospitals in their own districts close or threatened with ceasing operation.
ONCE AGAIN, NC LAWMAKERS COLLIDE WITH THE CONSTITUTION: In a Feb. 18 ruling, the NC Court of Appeals determined that “discriminatory intent” was likely the “primary motivating factor” driving Republican lawmakers’ new voter ID law. “The evidence shows,” the judges wrote, the General Assembly skewed acceptable forms of identification “to target African-Americans voters rather than to comply with a newly created constitutional amendment.” A federal court had reached the same conclusion weeks earlier. Judge Loretta Biggs found that not only were “minority voters less likely to have an acceptable form of ID, but the legislature excluded photographic IDs that would have greatly reduced the discrepancy.” For the umpteenth time, the Republican caucuses of the General Assembly — what Republican Representative Holly Grange of Wilmington candidly calls “the middle-age white man’s club” — used the tools of government to intentionally discriminate against black citizens. They act like it’s their job. Also on cue, Republican leaders wailed. House Speaker Tim Moore called the federal ruling an “attempt by an activist federal judge to overturn the will of the voters.” The state judges, Moore complained, without irony, offered a “judicial attempt to suppress the people’s voice in the democratic process.”
'2ND AMENDMENT SANCTUARIES' JEOPARDIZE PUBLIC SAFETY: Perhaps most directly at risk are victims of domestic violence. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, the presence of a firearm makes it nearly five times more likely that a domestic violence victim will become a homicide victim. Victims rely on their local governments and law enforcement agencies to help enforce protective orders, including orders to an abuser to surrender a firearm. Although Second Amendment Sanctuary proclamations are largely symbolic, they are nonetheless strong indicators of how community officials are choosing to allocate resources. If local governments are willing to become Second Amendment Sanctuaries, it’s likely that county agencies are not investing heavily in local resources to enforce court orders and other safety measures that may have some impact on a person’s ability to possess a firearm. For example, if a victim has a protective order that includes the surrender of a defendant’s firearms, but there aren’t available or designated domestic violence law enforcement officers who are specifically trained on protective orders and enforcing those provisions, the reality is that the defendant will likely continue to possess that weapon.
THE SUPREME COURT FACES A CRITICAL ABORTION CASE--AND A TEST OF ITS INTEGRITY: In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that required doctors who perform abortions at outpatient clinics to have “active admitting privileges” at a hospital no more than 30 miles away. The unstated but clearly intended effect of the statute was to impose a condition clinics could not meet, thereby shutting them down. By a vote of 5 to 3, the justices ruled that the law’s ostensible medical rationale was hollow and that it created an “undue burden” on women’s right to choose an abortion, contrary to precedent. Nevertheless, in January 2019 the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, dominated by Republican appointees, finalized a ruling upholding a Louisiana law nearly identical to the recently rejected Texas one. The 5th Circuit justified its defiance of the Supreme Court by noting operational differences between the two states’ medical systems; but the main difference between 2016 and 2018 was the election of Donald Trump as president and his empowerment to appoint justices who oppose Roe v. Wade. Now you can see why the technical legal issues in the case, complex and weighty as they are, pale in comparison to the real question: whether the Supreme Court will reverse a freshly minted pro-choice precedent after the justice who cast a fifth and deciding vote for it in 2016, Anthony M. Kennedy, retired in 2018 — and Brett M. Kavanaugh replaced him.
A WAR WITHOUT WINNERS WINDS DOWN: The full futility of that effort was revealed in documents obtained by the Washington Post late last year from an investigation by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. They showed how for years, even as American government officials were claiming successes in building democratic government in Afghanistan, the military and civilian officials on the ground acknowledged the obvious — that it was an extraordinarily expensive — roughly $2 trillion over 18 years — and pointless exercise. Their unvarnished pronouncements, withheld from the public, were devastating: “I have no visibility into who the bad guys are,” wrote Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense when the war began, in 2003. Twelve years and many billions of dollars later, General Douglas Lute, an Army general who served in the Bush and Obama administrations, told the inspector general, “We didn’t know what we were doing.” It would be good to believe that the tens of thousands of Americans who served in Afghanistan, and the more than 3,500 American and allied troops who laid down their lives there, and the untold thousands of Afghans killed in the war, did accomplish something positive in the end. That may be too much to hope, and there will be those who will denounce the Doha agreement as an election-year ploy and a sellout to the Taliban. But with so little to show after all these years, it is hard to see what wiser path America could follow. “Everyone will agree that it is more honorable to end the fighting than to continue a conflict that has brought so much suffering,” this page wrote in 1973 of the Vietnam War agreement. “In that sense it is a ‘right kind of peace,’ deserving support in the hope that its calculated ambiguities can be transformed in time into the reality of an enduring settlement.”
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
DONNA CRISP: RALEIGH SHOULD NOT ALLOW WHOLE-HOME AIRBNB RENTALS: Beware, Raleigh. Drunken revelers may be coming to your neighborhood. A city committee has recommended the Raleigh City Council allow whole-house short term rentals in certain areas. I know about this from living in Asheville before it became a Top 10 destination, causing housing costs and taxes to rise as quality of life diminished. Local government, blended with politics and money, increasingly favored tourists over locals. Neighborhoods began to disintegrate, as homeowners illegally rented out spare bedrooms or entire houses to tourists. On my small street, two homes became weekend havens for out-of-towners who preferred expensive homes over hotels. Sometimes there were problems. I see trouble as Raleigh heads in the direction Asheville took, and wonder what the city will do when things go wrong. And things will go wrong. (author's note: I agree with this LTE. In preparing our Town's AirBnB ordinance, I studied the problems and eventual solution to Asheville's conundrum. We now only allow part of a house to be rented, and require a custodial presence, either owner or manager)
CHERYL MITCHELL-OLDS: HOW CAN NC BATTLE CORONAVIRUS WHEN SO MANY CAN'T AFFORD TO SEE A DOCTOR? Regarding “North Carolina is preparing for coronavirus, officials say,” (Feb. 26): In light of the coming coronavirus, what is the N.C. legislature’s plan for the 1 million people in our state who are uninsured? Is the legislature expecting people without insurance to show up at a doctor’s office, urgent care, or ER if they think they might be infected? Many are not going to risk a huge bill they cannot pay in order to be screened for a virus that might be a common cold. There’s also the problem of people who have insurance with huge deductibles. They, too, may be reluctant to seek care. Many in low-paying jobs will not take time off from work because they aren’t compensated for sick time and can’t afford to lose wages. A lack of concern for the health and wealth of the poor people of North Carolina is going to cost us dearly. What is the legislature’s plan? Some ideas: increase minimum wage, expand Medicaid, support unions.
FRANK HARRIS: BERGER'S BOY BLAINE IS MILKING THE UNC CRISIS: Regarding “Interim UNC System leaders are receiving thousands a month,” (Feb. 20): It appears Sen. Phil Berger’s former chief of staff, Jim Blaine, doesn’t apply the same fiscal conservatism in his consulting position as he espoused in his public career. The truth is that Blaine doesn’t have any expertise in education that would justify a monthly salary of $15,000. These consulting positions appear to be nothing more than an opportunity to line pockets of the Republican leadership’s friends, which Blaine gladly accepted. The public should demand an accounting of the work performed by Blaine and other consultants that would justify over $1 million in consulting fees since January 2019. Blaine’s fiscal conservatism only applies when it doesn’t impact his pocketbook. As the old saying goes: “Do as I say, not as I do.”