Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


LEGISLATIVE BLUSTER DOESN'T HELP UNEMPLOYED MAKE ENDS MEET: It wasn’t Roy Cooper who enacted the stingiest unemployment benefits in the nation. Phil Berger and his allies in the General Assembly did and it was signed into law by former Gov. Pat McCrory. Roy Cooper didn’t enact the shortest duration of unemployment benefit payments in the nation. Phil Berger and his followers in the General Assembly did -- with the giddy backing of the state Chamber of Commerce. Instead of issuing ultimatums to the governor, Berger should be apologizing to the 854,000 workers who are out of jobs, have been receiving unemployment benefits and are desperate to figure out how to keep a roof over their families’ heads and struggling to put food on the dinner table. Instead of pointless political posturing, he should be pledging to reform the unemployment system he created to provide benefits that at least match the national average.

PHIL BERGER DOUBLE-DIPPPED ON HOUSING, BUT WILL HE PAY THAT $50,000 BACK TO THE STATE?: Like most legislators, Berger (R-Rockingham County) has requested per-diem payments from the General Assembly for his lodging while in Raleigh on legislative business; he collected over $50,000 for housing expenses from June 2016 through May 2020. But here’s the problem: Berger also received monthly reimbursements for the same housing from his campaign committee – a total of $72,000 during the same four-year period for “rent” in Raleigh. In other words, Berger collected money from the General Assembly he didn’t need for his job – and that’s an apparent violation of Article V of the North Carolina Constitution which says public money must be spent for a public purpose, not for personal gain. The Legislative Ethics Committee cited that constitutional provision in a May 2020 memo titled “Ethical Principle and Guidance 11.” In a series of warnings, the memo said, “It is unethical for a legislator to accept per diem from the General Assembly for lodging and receive reimbursement for the same lodging from some other source.” In 2012, he began charging his campaign $1,200 a month (later upped to $1,500) for “rent [and] office services” for his small law office, a converted 1,400-square-foot house he owned in Eden. Then he put his wife on the General Assembly payroll as one of his legislative assistants. Then he began charging his campaign $1,500 a month for housing in Raleigh while also charging the government for lodging.

FELONS WHO HAVE SERVED THEIR TIME SHOULD BE ABLE TO VOTE: Under current law it can be anywhere from as few as three to as many as a dozen years – or more – before a felon who is out of prison can be eligible to get their right to vote back. In every other way, these people are “normal” citizens. They work at jobs, they pay taxes and they raise families. But they cannot vote. "It makes me think of going back to being three-fifths of a man (a reference to the original Constitution that counted slaves as less than white people for the Census and to determine representation in Washington)," said Daquan Peters. Peters was convicted and served more than 12 years for possession of crack cocaine. Since his release from prison he’s worked two jobs to support his family but because he remains on probation, he is barred from voting. Research shows that while Blacks make up 22 % of the voting age population in the state, they make up 42% of those who cannot vote during probation or parole. Our society wants ex-convicts to work and pay taxes. Giving people opportunities to fully participate in society – including voting – promotes rehabilitation and re-integration into society. There is no down-side and certainly no gain from withholding the opportunity to vote.

TRUMP RELIES ON GRIFTERS AND MISFITS. BIDEN IS BRINGING THE A TEAM: Biden has surrounded himself with good people throughout nearly half a century in Washington — and he engenders so much loyalty that many in his inner circle have been with him for decades. (Campaign Manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon is one of the few newcomers.) Criticisms that Biden is a hostage of the far left are laughable given how sane and centrist his top advisers are. They include his former chiefs of staff Ron Klain, Bruce Reed, Steve Ricchetti and Ted Kaufman. Combined, these four men have roughly 150 years of Washington experience. All are effective operatives. Not one is a bomb-thrower. Biden’s foreign policy team includes the likes of Tony Blinken, Avril Haines, Jake Sullivan and Nicholas Burns. All are veterans of high-level government service: Blinken was deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser, Haines was deputy national security adviser and deputy CIA director, Sullivan director of policy planning at the State Department, and Burns an undersecretary of state. This is the A Team. They are seasoned professionals, ready to govern on Day One. Trump came into office not knowing the first thing about government, and he surrounded himself with equally inexperienced and unethical people. Most qualified Republicans wanted nothing to do with him. This helps to explain why so many Trump aides have been grifters and misfits. His personal lawyer Michael Cohen, national security adviser Michael Flynn, campaign manager Paul Manafort, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, pal Roger Stone and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos are all convicted felons. Now, Stephen K. Bannon — former Trump campaign CEO and onetime White House strategist — has been indicted for allegedly defrauding Trump supporters eager for a border wall. This populist mountebank was arrested on a mega-yacht owned by a Chinese billionaire. Trump is left with second-raters and sycophants such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf and national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien. All were promoted multiple ranks above their level of competence. But even they are superior to third-raters such as Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller and Peter Navarro, who would be allowed into a normal White House only as part of a tour group. (Never thought I would be leaning on Max Boot to express how I feel, but here we are)

HOW TO REVERSE COURSE ON TRUMP'S ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE: The courts have already intervened to limit some of the damage; a new president, with a favorable Congress, can do much more. This will take patience and discipline. Mr. Trump has left the country’s environmental policies in wreckage. Most of that destruction has been in service of a misbegotten strategy of “energy dominance” that emphasized the production of more and more fossil fuels at a time when mainstream science — and the fires, floods, hurricanes and other evidence before our eyes — insisted that what we need is less of them. The biggest casualties were the three programs that formed the basis of Mr. Obama’s promise at the 2015 Paris climate meeting to substantially reduce America’s greenhouse gases: rules reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, those reducing emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations; and those mandating dramatic improvements in automobile fuel efficiency. The damage this year, though considerable, was less visible in the shadows of a global pandemic. Perversely, despite emerging evidence of a link between dirty air and deaths from Covid-19, a disease that among other things attacks the lungs, the Environmental Protection Agency voted emphatically in favor of dirty air. In April, the agency recalculated the costs and benefits of curbing mercury pollution in a way that could be used to justify weakening rules for any pollutant the fossil fuel industry deemed too costly to control. That same month, it declined to tighten regulations on emissions of tiny soot particles known as PM 2.5, which threaten the lungs — even though career scientists at the agency had overwhelmingly favored a more protective standard. As president, Mr. Biden would have several weapons at his disposal. He could use the complex Congressional Review Act to overturn initiatives that Mr. Trump was unable to complete in time, possibly including the recent weakening of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act’s regulations. And he would almost certainly seek to replace Mr. Trump’s executive orders and rules with his own, a laborious though necessary process. And he can move forward with his own agenda. The centerpiece, as of now, would be his sprawling $2 trillion plan to tackle climate change with ambitious deadlines, a more measured approach to drilling on public lands (he’d leave the Arctic alone) and big investments in energy efficient buildings, clean fuels and clean cars.


LINDSAY SAUNDERS: IT'S A GLOBAL PANDEMIC, THE U.S. NEEDS TO REACH OUT: It is clear that a global pandemic requires a global response. Congress and the White House have forgotten. The U.S. must support lower-income countries to address the crisis and strengthen healthcare systems. I lived in Zambia, when I worked for USAID, and Zambia doesn’t have the safety nets we do. In dozens of countries, the pandemic is not only impacting people directly, it is undermining years of progress in fighting diseases. Many kids are missing out on life-saving vaccines and it’s getting harder to access treatment for diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Food insecurity and starvation are also rising fast. Whether it’s COVID-19 or other ongoing global health emergencies, we need a strong response from Congress here and around the world.

KEITH BARBER: POLITICS LED TO A FOOLISH MOVE BY UNC-CHAPEL HILL: UNC-Chapel Hill’s decision to shut down in-person instruction on its sprawling campus earlier this week is a case of common sense come too late. Common sense appears to be in short supply these days, especially among elected officials and political appointees like UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey and UNC System President Peter Hans. Since when did political appointees like Ramsey become experts on infectious diseases? He has no experience as an educator. In fact, Ramsey doesn’t even possess an associate’s degree. The UNC Board placed politics ahead of human life with its foolish decision to mandate in-person instruction. The consequences of those terrible choices by Ramsey and Hans, along with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, will not be known for some time. But one thing is clear: Politics should never guide policy on student health during a global pandemic, nor should it supersede common sense.

LIBBA GENOVA: MARK WALKER MISCHARACTERIZED THE PEACEFUL PROTEST AT DEJOY MANSION: On Aug. 16, there was a peaceful demonstration in front of the Greensboro home of Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, to protest the dismantling of the United States Postal Service. Like many, I have grave concerns that the blatant attempts to slow down our mail service are connected to election interference. But it is also clear that the impact of these actions puts people at risk when they can’t get prescriptions on time. So I attended this protest. In a social media post, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker characterized this protest as “creating havoc, intimidation and harassment.” The group of protesters was peaceful. None of the people blocked traffic, although I believe the police department blocked off the streets. I have contacted Mr. Walker’s office numerous times to express my concerns on a variety of issues. His email responses were unhelpful, condescending or simply unresponsive to the issue I raised. Mr. Walker further stated that Louis DeJoy was “appointed to try and clean up the USPS, which has been losing billions of dollars.” I guess it doesn’t matter to him that right now, before an election, and during a pandemic, is not the time to create havoc in our mail delivery.