Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


STATE SENATE SHOWS QUALITY DOESN'T COUNT: Senate Republican leader Phil Berger, after Thursday’s vote said “the headline in this debate, was Governor Cooper has no plan. Shouldn't that be something folks are concerned about? That he has no plan to deal with the issue of natural gas in the state of North Carolina?” There it is. Delli-Gatti’s fate wasn’t about whether she’s able to do the job. She is eminently qualified – having worked for the EPA as a congressional liaison, the Environmental Defense Fund ad director of Southeast Climate and Energy and she is an Air Force veteran. She has both the experience and skills to do a good job for North Carolina. She’d been on the job with hardly a complaint since February. Nobody believes she is not qualified. This is a Sen. Berger political power play and his obedient caucus dutifully agrees.

OVERCOMING SYSTEMIC RACISM STARTS WITH OURSELVES AND IN OUR HOMES: First, dealing with systemic racism is an American problem. Systemic racism shapes everything in our nation, whether that involves police brutality, economic justice, or access to education. As Nikole Hannah-Jones has shown with her 1619 Project, systemic racism is embedded in our nation’s DNA, and it will take a commitment from everyone to begin to address these problems. Taking an honest account of this history, both in our classrooms and in our homes and, most importantly, in our laws would be an important first step. Second, the burden of combating systemic racism should not be on Black people. Instead, white people who consider themselves to be allies must act and deal with systemic racism honestly and openly. It’s great to show your support for accountability in the murders of George Floyd or Andrew Brown, Jr., or to raise your Black Lives Matter flag from your front porch. Others may even highlight their individual interactions with people of color and believe that they “do not have a racist bone in their body.” But there’s more to it than that. These personal expressions do not correct the differences in pay, wealth and employment that affect Black families on a daily basis. It is not enough to speak out in council chambers. There will be no significant change until we strive to change ourselves and recognize and address how systemic racism permeates our daily lives.

STATE ELECTION OFFICIALS ARE UNDER ATTACK. WE WILL DEFEND THEM.: Tucked into many of the election laws Republicans are pushing or enacting in states around the country are pernicious provisions threatening punishment of elections officials and workers for just doing their jobs. Laws like those already passed in Republican-controlled states like Georgia and Iowa, no matter their stated intent, will be used as a weapon of intimidation aimed at the people, many of them volunteers, charged with running fair elections at the local and state levels. By subjecting them to invasive, politically motivated control by a state legislative majority, these provisions shift the last word in elections from the pros to the pols. This is a serious attack on the crucial norm that our elections should be run on a professional, nonpartisan basis — and it is deeply wrong. It is so wrong that having once worked together across the partisan divide as co-chairs of the 2013-14 Presidential Commission on Election Administration, we have decided to come together again to mobilize the defense of election officials who may come under siege from these new laws.

AS A BLACK WOMAN, I WAS TOLD NOT TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MEDICINE: Being told “no” has been a theme in my life. At my predominantly Black elementary school, I was encouraged to realize my dreams. But when I started middle school at age 9, there were significantly fewer Black students, teachers and administrators, and the messaging changed. I will never forget the White male guidance counselor who told me that a young Black girl shouldn’t try so hard — that I should strive to be a nurse so that when I failed to become a doctor, it wouldn’t hurt as much. Fortunately, my mother and grandmother taught me to respond to naysayers by working twice as hard, being twice as good and accepting half the recognition. I did this throughout high school, when my college aspirations were continually challenged, even though I graduated at 16; throughout college at a historically Black university, when the pre-med advisers — all White — discouraged me from applying to medical school; when I had to fight my way off the medical school waitlist despite my sterling application; and throughout medical school and residency, when too few colleagues and mentors looked like me and my outsider status was cemented. When, in my first semester of medical school, my biochemistry professor told me that I wouldn’t survive because I’d attended an HBCU and therefore received a subpar education, I felt doomed before I’d even begun. Making it painful or impossible for someone to pursue their purpose is wrong on its face. But abiding racism in health care also means inferior treatment — and preventable suffering and death — for Black patients. For example, the Harvard Business Review has chronicled research suggesting that Black men are more likely to undergo medical treatment prescribed by Black doctors, while Forbes recently noted that the maternal mortality rate for Black mothers is 2.5 times that of White mothers and that physicians are less likely to prescribe pain medication for Black patients than White patients.

TURNING CHILD CARE INTO A NEW COLD WAR: For a country brimming with “pro-family” politicians, the United States sure is a tough place to raise a family. We Americans like to think “We’re No. 1,” but one recent study found that the United States was the second worst out of 35 industrialized countries as a place for families. We ranked behind Bulgaria. Behind Chile. Now we have a historic chance to support children and families, for President Biden’s American Families Plan proposes programs such as high-quality day care and pre-K that are routine elsewhere in the world. You might think that the “pro-family” Republican Party would be eager to translate platitudes into practical help. But you’d be wrong. “You know who else liked universal day care?” tweeted Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican. She cited the old Soviet Union, apparently suggesting that there is something Communist about day care, and falsely claimed that participation would be mandatory under the Biden plan. J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” warned, “‘Universal day care’ is class war against normal people.” Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, denounced efforts “to put Washington even more in the middle of your life, from the cradle to college.” Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, railed at “lefty social engineering.” In Idaho, a Republican state representative, Charlie Shepherd, explained that he was against a day care measure because “that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child.” He later apologized because his remarks “sounded” sexist. It’s odd that Republicans perceive early childhood programs as a Democratic plot. One of the best states for early childhood programs is Republican Oklahoma, and Oklahomans don’t see pre-K as Communist but as common sense: If you don’t invest in children at the front end, you pay at the back end. Biden’s effort to slash child poverty and create systems for day care and pre-K could be historic. It’s the most important policy issue of 2021. These initiatives would do for children and families what Social Security and Medicare did for the elderly.


LAURA BIEGEL: WE'VE BECOME DESENSITIZED TO MASS SHOOTINGS: A new day, another mass shooting, this time in California. Life for the rest of us goes on as usual. Police swarm the scene. The shooter is down. The casualties will be totaled and reported. The talking heads will debate about gun laws. A study will be done — yet again — and then, absolutely nothing will change. We are numb. We are desensitized. We are pathetic, as a country. Pro gun people will say it’s not the guns, it’s mental health. Others will say if mentally ill people didn’t have easy access to guns then shootings would be less frequent. Again, nothing will change because our some of our lawmakers want the huge donations that NRA makes to their campaigns. I urge my representatives, Sens. Richard Burr, Thom Tillis and Rep. David Rouzer, to do something. Let us not be pathetic.

BASIL CAMU: PROTECT OUR TREES BY STOPPING THIS BILL: Trees are essential to the health of our planet, yet we lose 30 football fields of trees every minute. We must plant billions of new trees worldwide and preserve the trees we have now to curb this loss. But our legislature has proposed a plan to move in the opposite direction. House Bill 496, a harmful anti-tree bill, would seriously restrict our ability to maintain the lush and vibrant neighborhoods that are so characteristic of North Carolina. In many cities, it would also allow developers to remove as many trees as they see fit. With all of the pressing issues facing our planet, we need all the help we can get maintaining our green spaces. Trees do so much to protect us, and now it’s our turn to do the same for them by opposing this bill.

MAYA HART: SHACKLING PREGNANT INMATES IS A GROTESQUE PRACTICE THAT NEEDS TO END: The N.C. General Assembly is considering the Dignity for Women Who are Incarcerated Act, which would limit the use of shackles during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the first six weeks postpartum. Major medical associations, human rights groups and reproductive justice organizations agree that shackling during pregnancy, labor and postpartum healing is harmful and horrific. House Bill 608 also limits invasive searches and use of restrictive housing during the same period. A piece I find particularly exciting as a new mom is the requirement that the Department of Public Safety allow a newborn to remain in the mother’s care for at least 72 hours. Mass incarceration is a crisis of racism and injustice. It harms families and communities. This bill takes important steps to provide some respect and support to pregnant and birthing people. I call on lawmakers to support it.



Afghanistan withdrawal will get ugly

But just consider, the above statement could have been said in 2002, 2008, 2015, etc. I won't go into a long, drawn-out historical recounting, but occupying Afghanistan has always been a losing proposition. The British invaded Afghanistan three separate times from India, and were beaten soundly. Russia held on for about nine years before literally fleeing from Afghanistan, thanks in part to U.S. support of the Mujahideen.

We have been there for going on twenty years now, and the Taliban are possibly even stronger now than when we invaded in 2001. We've "surged" and subsided so many times I've lost count, and failed to pacify vast regions of the country. We've relied more and more on technology (drone strikes, satellite recon) over the last 10-12 years, as we've tried to step back and allow/nurture Afghan security forces to take over.

But here's another big problem: we have trained them to fight, but we haven't trained them in the other 90% or so of maintaining a strong military. Logistics and support, along with vehicle and aircraft maintenance, have largely been handled by a growing population of civilian contractors. They numbered about 6,000 in 2019, and now they're up to 24,000, as our actual military numbers have shrunk.

There can be only one reason for such a tactical oversight: the power and influence of the military-industrial complex. Billions have been made by contracting companies, and most of that has come from you and me. The current government in Afghanistan simply cannot afford that, and frankly, neither can we.

When air support ceases to exist (drones, helicopters, etc.), the Taliban will take over before you can say, "Holy shit!" three times. But that has always been inevitable. As hard as it will be, we need to ignore the voices of American Exceptionalism and the defense industry, and let Afghans decide their own fate.

Just had a gut-wrenching conversation

about this, and it's very likely many reading this have the same concerns that were expressed to me. It actually was on my mind when I wrote the above earlier, but since I have no realistic solutions I left it out. Which is lazy as hell, but I'll try to make up for it here.

The Taliban has a horrible track record when dealing with women and girls, and I haven't seen much (if any) progress on that front. Barring them from school is bad enough, but it's the honor killings and child marriages that are the most horrific. That isn't strictly a Taliban problem, or even an orthodox Muslim issue, although clerics do strongly influence day-to-day life. Pashtun culture itself is very patriarchal, and decades of western influence has not forced it to evolve, as many had hoped.

Like I said, finding a solution to that may not even be possible. But military intervention and "chaperoning" their government hasn't worked very well. Maybe economic aid contingent upon improvement of women's rights might bring about some change.