Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


FIND WAYS TO EASE VOTING, NOT RESTRICT IT: This needless “Elections Integrity Act” bill demands mail-in ballots not only be cast by Election Day, but if mailed, must be RECEIVED no later than Election Day. It is a change that is not necessary, won’t make elections any more secure and simply erects another unnecessary impediment to casting a fair ballot and getting it counted. There was no problem to be fixed. Things worked better than ever! The quest should be for ways to get MORE people to vote and get MORE properly cast ballots counted. A legal vote legally cast on or before Election Day (including placed in the mail) should be counted. The current practice for receipt of mail-in ballots is basic common sense. To seek a political advantage, regardless of whether done to help Democrats or Republicans, under the guise that appointed elections officials or staff professionals acted improperly is disingenuous at best.

NC SENATE BILL WOULD CUT DOWN ON CRONYISM ON UNC BOARD OF GOVERNORS: Perry, a Lenoir County Republican, has offered a bill that would bar the legislature from appointing its own members, state employees – including UNC employees – and lobbyists to the 24-member board that oversees North Carolina’s 16 public universities. And, by the way, their spouses would be barred, too. It’s unusual for a member of the majority to suggest narrowing the range of political rewards that can be offered. Perry deserves credit for making a genuine appeal to lower the board’s partisan tone and increase its public credibility. That’s a change that’s needed. William E. Kirwan, a former chancellor of the University System of Maryland and a consultant with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, told The Chronicle of Higher Education last year that politics is increasingly coloring the judgment of university boards, and not for the better. “There has always been political influence,” he said. “But it has moved, at least to some institutions, to a very troubling degree.” Kirwan added, “I recognize the danger of romanticizing the good ol’ days, but it’s certainly my perception that boards had a clearer understanding of their proper roles.” Perry’s bill would be a big step toward reminding members of the UNC Board of Governors – and those who appoint them – of the board’s proper role.

EXPAND RURAL BROADBAND WITHOUT BURDENING RURAL PEOPLE: Recently, due to a push from a Fortune 100 company that received federal funding, a bill has been filed in the North Carolina legislature that would shift costs to “make ready” utility poles for new broadband infrastructure to electric co-ops and their members. Should this bill pass, special interests would receive more funding for their shareholders at the expense of rural consumers – leading to higher electric rates for local electric co-op members and further burdening the very people who expanded broadband is intended to help. This proposed policy is wrong. We must not move money from the pockets of rural people into those of Fortune 100 shareholders. Not-for-profit co-ops – and their members – should not be expected to subsidize broadband deployment costs, especially after more than $140 million in funding has been awarded to a for-profit cable provider for broadband expansion. This policy also breaks precedent. In January, the Federal Communications Commission declined to issue the cost-shifting rules that the special interests seek, noting that the issue is complex and requires more thoughtful consideration. It is in the best interest of rural people and communities to ensure that new broadband funding is applied as intended to cover expanded access, and that rural co-op members are not burdened with unfair costs.

AMAZON'S UNION VOTE COULD BE A HARBINGER FOR THE FUTURE OF WORK: Algorithms set the pace of work, decide where products should go, and determine the best size and strength of cardboard boxes for shipping. Apparently without irony, that algorithm is called “the matrix.” These are the background processes that enforce Amazon’s goal of rapid delivery on everything from dishwashing detergent to yoga mats. Humans are there to complete the specific, fiddly tasks that robots cannot. While this might sound different from typical white-collar office jobs, many U.S. employers are eager to emulate Amazon as much as they can, and increase automation and surveillance systems at work. One industry study indicated that the covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend significantly, with the majority of U.S. businesses now reporting plans for greater automation. While robots might not be coming to take all jobs, a more insidious shift is underway. Artificial intelligence systems are increasingly used to track, assess and rank workers — often without their knowledge. This, in turn, acts as a force multiplier for the asymmetries of power between bosses and employees. While AI tools can augment human capabilities, many bossware tools do the opposite: They increase demands for productivity and availability, collapse what remains of the boundaries between work and leisure time, and threaten autonomy, privacy and dignity. Amazon has led the way on some of the most extreme forms of algorithmic management, seeking to extract maximum labor from workers just as it extracts data from users of its vast computational network. Regardless of this week’s Amazon result, algorithmic management will continue intensifying across workplaces, which means more of us will need to resist systems that treat humans like robots.

REPUBLICANS HAVE FOUND A CRUEL NEW CULTURE WAR: TRANSGENDER RIGHTS: You probably heard about what happened in Arkansas. On Tuesday, state lawmakers there voted overwhelmingly, by a three-to-one ratio, to override a veto from the Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, and effectively ban gender-affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, for trans youth under the age of 18. It doesn’t matter if those youth are pleading for this kind of help or have already begun receiving it and found it to be lifesaving. It doesn’t matter if their parents, having wrestled hard with the situation and done extensive research, believe that therapy is crucial. It doesn’t matter if physicians have concluded it’s in the youths’ best interest. Politicians know best. And they’re expert at identifying vulnerable, marginalized populations and demonizing them in the interest of political gain. That’s what Republicans in Arkansas, in Alabama and in dozens of other states are doing with scores of active bills, many of which focus on denying trans youth gender-affirming treatments and dictating how they may or may not participate in sports. They’re inventing a problem to whip up a culture war that they’re convinced will redound to their benefit. Worried that their party can’t retain or wrest power with its positions on the economy and prescriptions (or lack thereof) for health care, they’re fighting on other turf, with no pause to contemplate the need for their offensives and no thought for the casualties. Republicans’ response to their party’s political failures at the ballot box in 2018 and 2020 is to find an issue that they believe paints Democrats as convention-smashing libertines and themselves as the defenders of innocent children and a moral order. It’s to name monsters out there and take up torches against them. The issue is trans equality. The monsters are trans people.


GARY PARKER: WHAT ABOUT OUR RIGHT TO NOT BE A TARGET? The right to bear arms in the Second Amendment refers to the states being allowed to form militias, not an individual “right” to own any firearm you can acquire. I have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness secured by our government — and confidence to go to the grocery store, school, or massage parlor without fear of being shot. Most Americans want anyone purchasing a firearm to go through a thorough background check. Most Americans want to stop the sale and possession of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines by the public. Only law enforcement and the military should have them. You can still buy your handgun, shotgun and hunting rifle. Just don’t tread on our rights to see that sensible laws on the purchase and possession of guns is the standard in America.

KAREN BENDER: COVID KILLED MY HUSBAND, DON'T USE RELIGION AS AN EXCUSE TO AVOID VACCINE: The New York Times reported that millions of white evangelical adults in the U.S. do not intend to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This virus killed my husband. He tried not to get it, but he still did. Can’t you be a believer and still take advantage of a vaccine that many people consider to be a godsend to protect yourself from serious illness and death? Don’t you have an obligation to your family, your employer, your friends, your community? By refusing the vaccine, you or someone you love may contract COVID and have a serious outcome. That’s not God’s will. That’s a case of someone misguidedly exercising their free will and tragically putting themselves and others at risk. I say this from my own experience, out of compassion for those who will survive COVID victims. Trust me, no one else needs to suffer like that.

MARK EZZELL: PLEASE PAY BETTER ATTENTION WHEN DRIVING: April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, Alcohol Awareness month, and April 26-30 is National Work Zone Awareness Week. As director of the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program, I urge every driver to refocus their attention on driving behaviors that may contribute to preventable roadway deaths. Distractions come in many forms: texting, speeding, impaired driving, being inattentive in construction zones. In 2020 in North Carolina 1,982 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes, 157 died in distracted driving crashes, and 42 were killed in work zones. A traveling National Work Zone Memorial will be on display next week at the NCDOT welcome center on I-95 in Northampton County. Sadly, there are 1,592 names on it, including 36 fallen workers from N.C. Please, drive safe, drive sober, drive the speed limit and buckle up.



The folly of debating conservatives

I am a firm believer in the value of information; that the more we know, the better we can solve life's myriad problems. But making sure that information is accurate is not always easy, it requires at least a minimum of due diligence in checking sources, preferably multiple, independent, primary sources. Unfortunately, way too many people take the exact opposite route. And of course their conclusions suffer from it.

I hesitate to bring religion into this discussion, but it is already there anyway, so what the hell: The concept of "faith," or believing in something in the absence of scientific proof, has so permeated evangelical Christian dogma that it dominates their entire outlook on life. They revere Jesus, but it's figures like John the Baptist who strike their fancy. Ragged, unkempt, wandering the wastelands ranting and raving, warning of dire consequences. Or the other John (probably not his real name) who was exiled to the Isle of Patmos because he was (very likely) insane.

My point is, it's not the scholars, it's not the well-read, it's not the consensus-seekers who should be listened to. It's those on the fringe, who have distanced themselves from critical thinking and social interaction. People like Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and (yes) Donald Trump.

So, now that we've figured out why they follow such false prophets, we should be able to make progress in reversing that mindset, right? Wrong.

They may be depriving themselves of accurate information, but they have also become very skilled at avoiding the "introspection" that might have freed them from such ignorance. And one of those skills is the "segue," the fluid move from one debate topic to another, before their painful lack of understanding on the previous topic can be completely exposed.

But in order to do that they must dominate the conversation, dictate the subject matter being discussed. Now, this might seem to defy logic, that a poorly-informed individual would have the confidence to take charge. But the thing is, they've witnessed it in action for years.

Fox News hosts have been doing it since the early days. Pose a question to a hostile (Liberal) guest, interrupt said guest halfway through his or her answer, make a personal judgment, throw another question out there, interrupt, judge, change the subject with a new question, interrupt, judge, etc.

It's a corrupted formula, that any clear-thinking individual would see right through. But it appears to be successful. The rude and disingenuous host appears to win the exchange. And that debate formula has been absorbed by the conservatives who dutifully watch Fox News. They don't just spew the talking points, they play the entire game.

Don't waste your time by playing along.