Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


BURR, TILLIS VOTES SAY TRUMP IS ABOVE THE LAW, CONSTITUTION SAYS OPPOSITE: North Carolina’s two senators have concluded that Donald Trump is above the law. That’s a dangerous conclusion and not merely as a partisan matter. The convenience of playing to partisan fealty to Trump, who like Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, is a Republican, sets a precedent for every president to follow – Republican or Democrat. Are they absent moral and ethical principles? The practical implication of what they’ve said and done, in objecting to the impeachment trial of Trump now pending before the Senate, is that presidents are untouchable, not accountable for their actions – particularly anything they might do near the close of their term in office. As Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote last summer in a 7-2 decision that determined a president can be investigated, indicted and subject to trial in state courts: “As (Chief Justice John) Marshall explained, a king is born to power and can ‘do no wrong.’ … The President, by contrast, is ‘of the people’ and subject to the law.”

WE CAN'T WAIT ANY LONGER FOR A $15 MINIMUM WAGE: I know what $15 an hour would mean for my family and for workers from coast to coast. I work full time as a cook at a fast food restaurant, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, where I’m paid $9.20 per hour. I live paycheck to paycheck, and it’s a struggle to cover the basic necessities for myself and my 11 year old son. With $15 an hour, I could afford a car instead of taking the bus almost two hours each way to get to work. I would be able to pay my utility bills in full and still have enough left over to buy nutritious food for the week. I got involved with NC Raise Up, our state’s branch of the Fight for $15 and a Union, because I knew I needed to take action to win better wages and a voice on the job. We’ve fought like hell, gone on strike and changed the conversation in this country around the minimum wage. When the Raise the Wage Act passed the House in 2019, it was unprecedented. It demonstrated the power working people have when we fight together. But tens of millions of us workers are still stuck below $15 an hour, with no path for higher pay. And our demands for $15 have only grown stronger as we’ve faced down a pandemic and nationwide reckoning over systemic anti-Black racism. All workers, no matter where they live or where they work or where they’re from, should have access to a living wage. A $15 minimum wage is the minimum we need to get by.

FACTS AND SCIENCE AT A WHITE HOUSE BRIEFING? HOW REFRESHING: The people overseeing the nation’s effort to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic held a briefing at the White House Wednesday. It was remarkable. You need to see it to believe it. You can watch it here. Coordinator Jeff Zients, Dr. Rochelle E. Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci were prepared, spoke directly, offered specific information and provided the scientific information to back up their statements. After a year of ad-lib, off-the-cuff conjecture and often conflicting statements, the briefing Thursday was a welcome bit of normalcy. People who know what they are talking about, explaining the situation, what is getting done – all without gratuitous grandstanding. Fauci talked about vaccine development and effectiveness. “We, in the United States … are back on the global scene. We reentered into our arrangement with the WHO (World Health Organization), and we are part of COVAX. So I just want to remind people that this is a global effort and the more we get the virus controlled globally — and we will be part of that process as part of the global community — the better off we will be.”

I DON'T NEED OR WANT CORPORATIONS CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH: There’s only been one Black woman added to the Fortune 500 CEO club, Silicon Valley remains a White tech bro scene, and much of the enthusiasm to address racial equity and “keep the conversation going” has died down across the board. All of this makes it hard to stomach Facebook displaying a Black History Month illustration while advocacy organizations, such as Color for Change, recently had to demand a civil rights accountability infrastructure from the company following years of reported racial bias. It was difficult to scroll down my Twitter timeline and watch CBS News post a clip of Rosa Parks speaking on injustice after the news that another investigation has to be conducted into allegations of racial discrimination at the media company. Until corporations find concrete ways to address the ongoing ways they directly hurt Black communities, they should stop their farcical marketing campaigns celebrating Black History Month. This month shouldn’t be an excuse for companies to roll out PR stunts or attempt to absolve themselves from true accountability. Instead, it should be a time for corporate executives to move away from the aesthetics and the token compliments and find ways to invest their money, resources and power back into the hands of a community that’s been disproportionately exploited and erased. Right now, Black History Month is more about corporations telling us how they appreciate Black culture instead of showing us. Reparations, reallocation of resources, and honest and transparent reassessments of current racist power structures are more desirable than copy-and-paste greetings sent by Siri. Tangible actions are the only things that could be worth “celebrating” from corporations in February. Anything less is just more unnecessary lip service.

THE REDDIT/GAMESTOP STOCK TRADING FRENZY WAS NOT A POPULIST UPRISING: What’s distressing about the GameStop saga isn’t the fact that some people lost money; it is, as I said, the continuing gullibility these events exposed. Let’s be clear: What just happened was not a populist uprising. Our economy has left many families behind, but what working Americans need is an end to wage stagnation, not the opportunity to gamble on stocks. Indeed, when the dust settles we’ll probably find out that small investors as a group lost money in the trading frenzy, while Wall Street gained. But the narrative of little guys taking on The System surely sucked in some unwary victims. And things turned really ugly once GameStop stock began its inevitable descent. When the trading platform Robinhood temporarily stopped accepting orders for some volatile stocks because it didn’t have enough cash to support the trades, far too many public figures immediately claimed conspiracy. It’s no surprise that Senator Josh Hawley, arguably America’s leading fake populist and a fist-pumping promoter of the election lies that led to the sacking of the Capitol, joined in. But some progressives echoed the complaint. They should have known better. There was always an obvious QAnonish tinge to the meme stock phenomenon, and it has gotten ever stronger as those stocks sink; yes, there are people on Reddit and other social media assigning all the blame to Jewish bankers. So let me make a plea to everyone who cares about the inequalities of our society: It’s fine to support populism, but make sure that the populism is real. We need serious policies to make American lives better, not conspiracy theorizing and phony culture wars against “elites.”


DONNA BAILEY: RALEIGH NEEDS TO BRING BACK CITIZEN ADVISORY COUNCILS: A year ago, without warning, the Raleigh City Council voted 6-2 to disband Citizen Advisory Councils. CACs have been an important part of citizen engagement since 1974 and were started by Raleigh’s first African-American mayor, Clarence Lightner, as a way to strengthen the voice of the underrepresented. Out of the 18 CACs that were meeting, only nine are still active, only two in Black communities. It is not for us to judge what was in the hearts of the mayor and council a year ago when they voted to suppress Black voices. It was not only Black community voices they suppressed, but all CAC volunteers. It needs to begin to rebuild trust, with a renewed commitment to anti-racism, equity and empowering authentic grassroots community engagement.

BETTY WEBB: TIME TO TAKE CAMERON OUT OF THE VILLAGE: Hearing one of my African-American students describe how she felt about walking past Silent Sam was life-changing for me. While white people like myself are often quite ignorant about Black history, Blacks are not. Removing the Cameron name literally removes an explicit reference to one of North Carolina’s largest slave owners. Its implicit message can arguably be even more powerful. It can be an apology. It can be an acknowledgment of white privilege. It can be a commitment to advocate for equal rights. It can be a commitment to ensure equal treatment under the law. Hearing the Village District name should remind us to renew our long overdue commitment to racial equality. That would go a long way toward making America, not just great, but good.

MICHAEL GRAVES: JAN. 6 WAS MORE INFAMOUS THAN PEARL HARBOR: It was devastating because the attack was not from a foreign foe, but from within. It was so devastating because the attack was by the very individual who almost four years earlier promised to protect and defend the Constitution. The president of the United States on Jan. 6 dealt an almost lethal blow to this great city on the hill, to the light of democracy, to the greatest nation that has ever existed. On this day our president lay down the defense of the nation and decided to carry only the selfish advancement of his own erratic and unconstitutional personal desires. On this day not only did we finally see, for those who were not blind, the actual reality that the emperor really has no clothes, but we also witnessed what I have always argued against, the fact that there are two Americas. I myself had to face the fact and ask myself the question: What if those were black faces that were breaching the Capitol? Was the Capitol breached so easily because the faces were not threatening because of their color? Would more protection have been planned if the faces looked like mine? Were the defenses of the capital relaxed because those that were coming to dinner were more acceptable and less threatening than me? Well, guess who came to dinner! I have often preached to young Black Americans that you never say that this is not my home, because if this is not your home you are a visitor. Therefore the people that are at home can put you out and if you are a visitor you will never have the same rights to that property as the people who say they are at home. I have always said that you cannot put me out because I am at home. On this day I do not believe that if people who look like me had threatened the very seat of the democracy while the sitting president and the 535 leaders of our country were in session, that we would have been treated as kind. On this day my president failed me. On this day my country told me by the actions of the Capitol police that I am a second class citizen. On this day we were made aware of the imperfections that make up our country. We are reminded that unfortunately there are two Americas. We are reminded that this thing called freedom is not stationary or free; it is fluid and expensive. Time changes the people who hold power; therefore, our freedoms are always threatened and require vigilance. This day should not be just a day that will live in infamy but America, sweet land of liberty; if we love this republic and we love our freedoms, that day better live as a warning, and that is our revelation.



The challenge of critical thinking

Going a little meta here to begin with, looking at the value of opinion pieces like those above. I have always considered editorializing to be an effort to obtain a 3-dimensional view of a subject (walk around and see what's behind the 2-dimensional presentation of factual information). But in order for that to be effective, to be enlightening, as it were, critical thinking is necessary:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

Yeah, that's a whole lot to take in, but it's also pretty obvious. Each element on its own is self-evident, and should already be in the back of your mind somewhere. But listening to that background voice when you're reading (or composing) an opinion is not quite as easy as it sounds, especially if your preconceived notions are making their own noise.

Contrarianism and confirmation bias are natural psychological reactions to information acquisition, and it requires a concerted and intentional effort to filter them out, or the end result may be flawed:

Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one's groups’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fairmindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of "idealism" by those habituated to its selfish use.

We have some really good examples of that first category here in NC, and the fact I don't need to name names is very telling, frankly. It's also important to note: remaining in that second group does not shield you from criticism, especially from the 1st group. But if somebody from that second group questions your conclusions, pay attention. Because you may have skipped something from that long list of critical thinking attributes.

In the seminar I gave on social media advocacy, I discussed the importance of accuracy, with a nod to "the boy who cried wolf." The farther you stray from critical thinking in your posts (or comments, for that matter), the less perceived value your opinion carries. It's a battle I fight every day here, because I editorialize a lot. The reason being, you can get your news from countless other sources, but analysis (especially on the state level) is more sparse, and unfortunately mostly dominated by right-wing "think" tanks, with the glorious exception of NC Policy Watch.

If the last four years have taught us anything, it's that truth and critical thinking can no longer be taken for granted. We can't afford to cut corners, to ignore the little voices in our head that ask, "Are you sure about that?" Because if we do, one day those voices might be silenced.